08 December, 2010

From "The Dry Salvages"



It seems, as one becomes older,
That the past has another pattern, and ceases to be a mere sequence—
Or even development: the latter a partial fallacy
Encouraged by superficial notions of evolution,
Which becomes, in the popular mind, a means of disowning the past.
The moments of happiness—not the sense of well-being,
Fruition, fulfilment, security or affection,
Or even a very good dinner, but the sudden illumination—
We had the experience but missed the meaning,
And approach to the meaning restores the experience
In a different form, beyond any meaning
We can assign to happiness. I have said before
That the past experience revived in the meaning
Is not the experience of one life only
But of many generations—not forgetting
Something that is probably quite ineffable:
The backward look behind the assurance
Of recorded history, the backward half-look
Over the shoulder, towards the primitive terror.
Now, we come to discover that the moments of agony
(Whether, or not, due to misunderstanding,
Having hoped for the wrong things or dreaded the wrong things,
Is not in question) are likewise permanent
With such permanence as time has. We appreciate this better
In the agony of others, nearly experienced,
Involving ourselves, than in our own.
For our own past is covered by the currents of action,
But the torment of others remains an experience
Unqualified, unworn by subsequent attrition.
People change, and smile: but the agony abides.
Time the destroyer is time the preserver,
Like the river with its cargo of dead negroes, cows and chicken coops,
The bitter apple, and the bite in the apple.
And the ragged rock in the restless waters,
Waves wash over it, fogs conceal it;
On a halcyon day it is merely a monument,
In navigable weather it is always a seamark
To lay a course by: but in the sombre season
Or the sudden fury, is what it always was.

03 December, 2010

La Madeleine

Another, less purely humorous, but still not very serious poem. Since I'm being lazy about blogging of late (think: French thesis, long 20th Century paper, and the pesky little Am Lit paper I still haven't started), I'm just reposting things. Amateur, because this is effectively the first I've written.

The wind sprang up
at nine o'clock.
A sweeter breath
of autumn air
danced through my hair.

A honeyed scent
of falling leaves
and burning ash
breathed in here, now,
and I am back,

small, gazing up,
the summer breeze
quaking the heath
while honey bees
choreograph

spirals through gray
brush and lavender.
The peat moss bows
red caps—a grave
wind-bent salute—

until they brush
the brownish wisps
of younger hair,
then fall from thought.
Till scent breathed in

unearths some hoard;
till rustled hair
exhumes old air;
and kindled there,
autumnal leaves

are seen capped in
scarlet flame tips
tipping closer
as the wind-borne
wood breath dances.

01 December, 2010

L'Autonomie de l'Esprit saint dans la Nouvelle histoire de Mouchette

Apologies to those who can't read French, but I'm posting this largely for the few who can; most importantly my dad, who is a great fan of Georges Bernanos.


Dans la Nouvelle histoire de Mouchette, la question du sort final de l'héroïne reste ambigu. Bien qu’elle meure physiquement, la vraie question, pour un écrivain catholique comme Bernanos, c’est de savoir si elle meurt spirituellement. Son suicide est, bien sûr, un péché mortel au point de vue de l'Église. Mais la représentation de sa mort n’est pas du tout sombre ; au contraire, l'auteur utilise même des images baptismales en décrivant comment elle fixe son regard sur « le point le plus haut du ciel » (181). Ce détail n’est pas une preuve certaine de sa rédemption, mais il en indique bien la possibilité. Il faut considérer le texte dans son ensemble pour bien en saisir toutes les implications. Mais plus important que notre jugement sur l'extérieur de l'histoire est le fait que Bernanos refuse au lecteur toute information qui pourrait décider de la chose d'une manière certaine. C'est peut-être le principal procède de cet auteur par lequel il préserve l'autonomie de l'action de l'Esprit Saint.

Il importe de considérer l'action de Mouchette sous deux aspects: l'extérieur et l'intérieur. À l'extérieur, on voit se dérouler une histoire assez simple du viol et du suicide d'une jeune fille. Quant à l'intérieur, c'est-à-dire l'état psychologique de Mouchette, l'auteur nous donne à intervalles assez espaces des éclairs fugaces. Ces éclairs suggèrent qu'il y a une pureté d'intention chez Mouchette, malgré son ignorance quasi-totale des principes moraux. Sa loyauté pour Arsène, la loyauté qui le lui fait défendre contre les soupçons de la femme de M. Mathieu, empêche sa pensée de voler « vers l'homme dont elle avait subi l'étreinte » (175). Elle dirige sa haine contre elle-même, pour éviter de la diriger contre Arsène, bien qu'une telle haine soit évidemment un grand péril pour son âme. Plus importante encore, peut-être, est l'instant fugace de tendresse auquel elle faillit se soumettre quand elle veut se confesser à sa mère mourante. Hélas, cette occasion lui est retirée juste au moment où sa résistance cède à ce désir, quand « la petite tête obstinée. . .s'abandonne, avec un gémissement de fatigue, et comme au terme de son effort » (114). L'instant d'abandon vient au moment précis où, selon toute apparence, il ne sert plus de rien. La faute, si faute il y a, n'est pas à elle, mais plutôt aux circonstances. Elle est prête à se livrer, mais les circonstances enlèvent à son geste tout efficace. Ces faits nous laissent imaginer, au moins jusqu'à la quatrième partie, que sa rédemption est une possibilité.

En revanche, L’ entretien qu'a l'héroïne avec la « vieille » dans la troisième partie montre un aspect plus sinistre. Cet évènement fait partie de la matière externe de l'histoire, mais il est étroitement lié à l’évolution spirituelle de l'héroïne; donc, c'est une expérience à mi-chemin entre les deux états de l'être: l'extérieur et l'intérieur. La vieille femme mal-pensante tente la fille avec une description séduisante de la mort, de la paix et la pureté qu'apporte celle-ci: après tout, comme la vieille l'affirme, « tout ce qui vit est sale est pue » (151). Cette tentation viennent juste après les derniers mots de la mère de Mouchette, qui a bien trouvé la paix dans la mort à la fin de sa vie si solitaire, et également après le souvenir de la « paix solennelle » de la mort de son grand-père, en dépit de son « visage torturé » (105). Donc, il n'est pas très difficile pour Mouchette de la croire. En tout cas, elle n'a pas même des outils élémentaires pour clarifier toutes les idées et les images qui se mêlent dans sa tête. L'idée évocatrice de la pureté ici associe à la fois le souvenir de son premier amour pour Arsène, maintenant désacralisé, à la vision presque hallucinatoire du linceul blanc que la vieille lui offre. L'intelligence de Mouchette SE révolte contre cette association, contre l'invitation de considerer la mort comme une libération, un soulagement, et elle crie « Vous me dégoutez, sale vieille bête » (160). Mais cette révolte consciente n'est pas assez forte pour extirper l'attrait de l'idée de confesser son histoire: la vieille la convie à « parle[r] à [son] aise » (161). Inconsciente maintenant de ce qu'elle fait, elle se confesse, mais à son insu et au notre, pour ainsi dire. Comme Mouchette réfléchit à l'entretien qu'elle vient d'avoir, elle se dit que « La merveille est que [la vieille] ait réussi à [m’] arracher son secret » (167).

À cet instant-là, on comprend qu'on est maintenant complètement dans le domaine spirituel. Les gestes extérieurs que Mouchette accomplit ne lui sont plus intelligibles, à nous non plus. C’est de propos délibéré que Bernanos écrit de cette façon oblique. À cause d'elle, la conclusion de l'histoire nous laisse dans l'obscurité quant au salut de Mouchette. Même quand on a prise en considérations les détails que nous venons d'énumérer, on doit reconnaître qu'on ne sait rien de sûr. Mais pour un catholique fervent comme Bernanos, une telle connaissance certaine serait inconvenable. Alors que d’autres auteurs modernes se permettent un accès illimité aux secrets intimes de leurs personnages, Bernanos garde une très grande réserve. Si on pouvait juger Mouchette, on usurperait la connaissance des âmes réservée à Dieu (et à quelques saints). Malgré tous les indices à propos de la trajectoire que suit Mouchette, dans l'évaluation finale il y a toujours place pour la volonté, le choix ultime qui va décider le destin. Et parce que le choix n’est pas fixé, il y a également toujours place pour l'action de l'Esprit Saint dans les actions humaines. Donc, on ne peut pas protester que ce que Bernanos a fait ici nous laisse incapables de dire quelque chose de concluant, parce que c'est un élément intégral de son art. Devant « la brèche à peine ouverte du désespoir dans [cette] âme simple », il ne peut rien de plus que compter sur l'action de la grâce de Dieu et garder l'espoir dans sa bonté (176).

25 November, 2010

Explanations and Excuses

The general lack of any original material on this blog of late can be explained away by a few facts.

-I have work to do this semester for what is arguably the first time in my college career. Writing twenty-five pages in French is actually a bit of a challenge. Not super-much, but it still requires a bit of time. Writing a twenty-page English paper is also something to get used to, not because it's hard to fill twenty pages (not at all), but because the usual mindless rhythm of the six page essay is no longer appropriate. One has to consider things like pacing for the first time since high school.

-Academia is not my life. Neither is blogging. If it comes down to it, I'd much prefer to spend all my free time (of which there is still quite a lot, marvelously!) cooking large dinners, having dinner parties, talking to people, drinking real eggnog, reading something for fun, or tasting wine on a Saturday evening.

Est modus in rebus, as Horace would say.

15 November, 2010

Ragueneau at the Bakery

A very much less-than-serious poem, on the subject of my all-time-favorite French swordsman, Cyrano de Bergerac.

Cyrano:
“Ah ! te voilà, toi, la Sottise !/ --Je sais bien qu'à la fin vous me mettrez à bas; / N'importe. . .
Quelque chose que sans un pli, sans une tache,/J'emporte malgré vous,/et c'est. . .

Roxane:
C'est ?. . .

Cyrano :
Mon panache.”

Cyrano de Bergerac, Scene 5, Act IV


He was dying for love when I first saw his face,
Poor Gascon with a nose like a cudgel of wood
So I gave him a pastry; he saw it was good,
And he wrote me a poem that was full of grace.

I read it with care as a gentleman should.
And what godlike esprit! Quel bon goût! What good taste!
But a fearsome quiver of that thing on his face
Turned my transports to silence, if anything would.

This bemusing appendage, it sets him apart,
Attracting disciples; yet from it springs his art
Of hiding beneath swirls of a rakish moustache
While he oversees others' affairs of the heart.
Well, I keep him well-fed as he plays his sad part,
Writing Christian's je t'aime's in a surge of panache.

07 November, 2010

Auden Yet Again

This Auden fellow is really quite insightful sometimes. One further comment on one of the reasons writers generally have very mixed feelings about publicizing their work. It's a bit of an elitist remark in some respects; I think I'd be more comfortable with it in general if the conclusion were "if a good ethos were equally distributed among all men." But still.

Every writer would rather be rich than poor, but no genuine writer cares about popularity as such. He needs approval of his work by others in order to be reassured that the vision of life he believes he has had is a true vision and not a self-delusion, but he can only be reassured by those whose judgment he respects. It would only be necessary for a writer to secure universal popularity if imagination and intelligence were equally distributed among all men.

06 November, 2010

The Fictionality of Fiction

According to Lewis Carroll in Through the Looking Glass. Rather brilliant little book.

`Now, if you'll only attend, Kitty, and not talk so much, I'll tell you all my ideas about Looking-glass House. First, there's the room you can see through the glass -- that's just the same as our drawing room, only the things go the other way. I can see all of it when I get upon a chair -- all but the bit behind the fireplace. Oh! I do so wish I could see that bit! I want so much to know whether they've a fire in the winter: you never can tell, you know, unless our fire smokes, and then smoke comes up in that room too -- but that may be only pretence, just to make it look as if they had a fire. Well then, the books are something like our books, only the words go the wrong way; I know that, because I've held up one of our books to the glass, and then they hold up one in the other room.

`How would you like to live in Looking-glass House, Kitty? I wonder if they'd give you milk in there? Perhaps Looking-glass milk isn't good to drink -- But oh, Kitty! now we come to the passage. You can just see a little peep of the passage in Looking-glass House, if you leave the door of our drawing-room wide open: and it's very like our passage as far as you can see, only you know it may be quite different on beyond. Oh, Kitty! how nice it would be if we could only get through into Looking- glass House! I'm sure it's got, oh! such beautiful things in it!

Let's pretend there's a way of getting through into it, somehow, Kitty. Let's pretend the glass has got all soft like gauze, so that we can get through. Why, it's turning into a sort of mist now, I declare! It'll be easy enough to get through -- ' She was up on the chimney-piece while she said this, though she hardly knew how she had got there. And certainly the glass was beginning to melt away, just like a bright silvery mist.

In another moment Alice was through the glass, and had jumped lightly down into the Looking-glass room. The very first thing she did was to look whether there was a fire in the fireplace, and she was quite pleased to find that there was a real one, blazing away as brightly as the one she had left behind. `So I shall be as warm here as I was in the old room,' thought Alice: `warmer, in fact, because there'll be no one here to scold me away from the fire. Oh, what fun it'll be, when they see me through the glass in here, and can't get at me!'

01 November, 2010

More Auden

"In literature, as in life, affectation, passionately adopted and loyally persevered in, is one of the chief forms of self-discipline by which mankind has raised itself by its own bootstraps."

30 October, 2010

Auden on Writing

"Some writers confuse authenticity, which they ought always to aim at, with originality, which they should never bother about. There is a certain kind of person who is so dominated by the desire to be loved for himself alone that he has constantly to test those around him by tiresome behavior; what he says and does must be admired, not because it is intrinsically admirable, but because it is his remark, his act. Does not this explain a good deal of avant-garde art?"

10 October, 2010

Impersonality in Woolf

Being the T.S. Eliot junkie I am, I've been rather fascinated--if not particularly surprised--to see the concept of the "impersonality" of the artist explicitly voiced in many other writings than his "Tradition and the Individual Talent". Because of his towering status, and his remarkable talent for expressing critical concepts in a way that made them seem unquestionable, people tend to remember his formulation. But the same idea exists in Yeats, Pound, Hulme, and last, but certainly not least, Virginia Woolf.

This idea Eliot expresses as follows: "What happens [in creating a work of art] is a continual surrender of [the artist's self] as he is at the moment to something which is more valuable. The progress of an artist is a continual self-sacrifice, a continual extinction of personality." One can get at a good idea of what he means here by considering that when you read an excellent book or poem, you're not primarily interested in what the author was feeling when he or she wrote it. (Not that the common assumption isn't the opposite--that art is sloppy self-expression.) The artist's actual experience and emotions will almost inevitable play a part in the creation of the work, insofar as the artist is a human person with emotions like everyone else, but the work itself is not merely an expression of those. The artist is "a medium and not a personality", as he puts it, not something himself to be communicated, but the means by which the pressure of the artistic process is exerted on the objects of everyday life to create a coherent whole out of what is otherwise disjointed.

It's hardly a surprise that Virginia Woolf, well-read and part of the highly literary Bloomsbury group which Eliot himself frequented would have been acquainted with this notion of impersonality, nor that this would be one of the objects she tried to achieve in her art. What did surprise me a little upon reading To the Lighthouse for the Twentieth Century Literature class was how explicitly she lays out this aesthetic within the novel itself.

The novel is famously divided into three parts, the highly experimental central part, "Time Passes", being (logically enough) a lyrical evocation of the passage of time and its inexorable erosion of the human constructs that have brought order to life. Both the first and second parts, by contrast, deal with the creation of a work of art. At the end of part one, Mrs. Ramsay, the paradigm of the gracious hostess, brings the "work of art" of a perfectly harmonized dinner party into being. Part three then ends with the parallel completion of a painting by Lily Briscoe, one of the guests at the Ramsays' summer house. Now just before either work of art is achieved, something rather important has to happen: both Mrs. Ramsay and Lily undergo a loss of personality that allows them to identify with the Lighthouse, the overarching guiding image of the novel.

"Losing personality," Mrs. Ramsay muses, "one lost the fret, the hurry, the stir; and there rose to her lips always some exclamation of triumph over life when things came together in this peace, this rest, this eternity". This peace, rest, and eternity are what she hopes to achieve in the dinner party, and what she will in fact accomplish. The tensions of "personalities" subside as each guest, under her tacit direction, subordinates his or her individual likes and dislikes to the artistic unity of the evening. This may be seen as regrettably hypocritical by some. Lily certainly feels a twinge of regret for the honesty of self-expression that Mrs. Ramsay's created order denies, saying to herself after a bit of conversation with the generally disliked Charles Tansley, "She had done the usual trick--been nice. She would never know him. He would never know her." But any brutal honesty displayed to Charles would be out of place in this unusual work of art that is so contingent not merely on Mrs. Ramsay's direction, but upon the cooperation of the participants. (By analogy one may imagine that the best of Shakespearean plays, untainted by the author's personality, may nonetheless be marred as a total work of art if the actors playing the parts cannot cooperate with the words on the page and insist upon bringing in their personal lives to their performances.) No cooperation would be necessary, however, without Mrs. Ramsay's personal success in effacing her own personality to the point at which she can be seen as "like" the Lighthouse. "It was odd, she thought, how if one was alone, one leant to inanimate things...felt they became one..." And in this disposition, she can attach herself to the other : to the Lighthouse's last, "long steady stroke" or--and this is most important--to another person. Because that is precisely what the dinner party and its aftermath end up being. Art as portrayed in "To the Lighthouse" is not merely some theoretical literary unity as it can come off in the essays of Eliot's younger days. It helps to effect human unity, to enable love that is the loss of the individual's preoccupation with self in his or her desire to know another. Lily, by not displaying her dislike for Charles at the dinner is enabled to later remember him not by that initial dislike, but by the moment of mutual liking brought about some indefinite time later with Mrs. Ramsay acting as catalyst. And in the aftermath of the dinner party, Mrs. Ramsay is able to wordlessly relate to her husband in a way that had been consistently elusive up to that point in the novel as she turns away from what is now her image in the Lighthouse to smile at him.

Lily's case can be covered in fewer words, now that this pattern is established. She is initially frustrated in her efforts to complete her painting by Mr. Ramsay's too-strong personality: "He imposed himself. He changed everything." (It will, incidentally, be Mr. Ramsay's moment of redemption when he too reaches the Lighthouse and has ceased in some way to impose himself.) But a sudden surge of sympathy in Lily allows her to resolve her resentment of him as he heads out on his journey to the Lighthouse, and this opens the door to a whole series of revelations about the nature of Mrs. Ramsay, of art, and of what is necessary to complete the painting. Mrs. Ramsay has been the one to teach Lily the value (though I would argue she only realizes it now) of "giving, giving, giving." And now Lily is able to make the connection between this selflessness, this lack of desire to merely express oneself, and the making of art. "'You' and 'I' and 'she' pass and vanish; nothing stays; all changes; but not words, not paint. The crucial aspect of the painting she creates is not the intent behind it, but "what it attempted", the effort to achieve unity is what "remained forever".

17 September, 2010

Why Style Matters

I've always been rather profoundly disgusted with much modern fiction. Let me express a caveat: I have certainly read very little of it in its entirety. Generally I pick up a book, read a few chapters, and then have to close it in disgust--the style is abysmal.

While digging around in the archives of First Things, I came across a mildly dismissive mention of this article from the Atlantic Monthly by B.R. Myers. Apparently back in 2001, this article provoked a barrage of criticism; no surprise--the entire thing bashes the literary establishment, particularly the tendency of critics to moon over "literary" writers at the expense of all others. I am not enamoured of the basic thesis of the article. Myers is expressing little more original thought than the classic Marxist criticism of elitist literature. He wants Stephen King's horror novels and such to be accorded an equal place in the developing canon of literature as the works of Proulx and McCarthy.

I think there's some merit in being stylistically excellent. The interesting thing is that despite his basic thesis, Myers clearly does as well. In fact the truly interesting part of the article (and the bulk) is devoted to incisive analyses of the prose styles of these darlings of the literary world. He's quite good at this.

In fact, the portion of the article that I most appreciated was the section entitled "Muscular" Prose, referring primarily to Cormac McCarthy. Now McCarthy is something of a sore spot for me. I've read so many snippets of high praise of his work from Catholic websites (particularly First Things), and yet despite giving him a fair test this summer, I found his prose little less than nauseating. One sentence that Myers quotes, in fact, I went around quoting in mild rage to anyone who would listen for at least a week after I read it: "He ate the last of the eggs and wiped the plate with the tortilla and ate the tortilla and drank the last of the coffee and wiped his mouth and looked up and thanked her." (The Crossing) Saints preserve us! (No, really!) Have you ever come across such a gratuitous use of repetition? Some writers use repetition to effect something--an emotion, for instance. This instance displays the sort of repetitiveness that, according to my first instinct, and now to Myers' article, seems aimed only at showing off how literary the author can be. I wouldn't take it from Myers either if I hadn't found the exact same thing happening for the five chapters before I had to put it down.

Another caveat: generally speaking, I rather despise arrogant young critics who think that their opinions must become literary doctrine merely because they are their opinions. Even the most revered T.S. Eliot gets annoying when he does that. But that's what I'm doing with McCarthy. So be it. It does at least have some basis in textual reality.

And again, I must admit that I've never managed to complete anything of his. The high praise I read is invariably focused on the Old Testament centric-ness of the work, its Christianity, etc. That may well be; I wouldn't know--my testimony is necessarily one-dimensional. On the other hand, my family has always strongly adhered to the idea that a bit of Biblical imagery and a dash of God language doesn't make something a Christian work of art. A Christian something maybe, but not art. (There are worse examples than McCarthy that I'm thinking of now. Especially various didactic items of childrens literature.)

Another amazingly irritating bit:

He said that the souls of horses mirror the souls of men more closely than men suppose and that horses also love war. Men say they only learn this but he said that no creature can learn that which his heart has no shape to hold ... Lastly he said that he had seen the souls of horses and that it was a terrible thing to see. He said that it could be seen under certain circumstances attending the death of a horse because the horse shares a common soul and its separate life only forms it out of all horses and makes it mortal ... Finally John Grady asked him if it were not true that should all horses vanish from the face of the earth the soul of the horse would not also perish for there would be nothing out of which to replenish it but the old man only said that it was pointless to speak of there being no horses in the world for God would not permit such a thing. (All the Pretty Horses)


I started this book too. Didn't get up to this point. But read it. Ignoring the kind of painful abstraction that McCarthy seems to regularly allow free rein in his descriptions of anything whatsoever (interrupted only in appearance by the sort of mundane "realistic" detail of the previous example) consider the fact that John Grady is a cowboy. My understanding of character in fiction is that the language of the character should be suited to him. I think that's a fairly classical, Aristotelean view. Now, I understand that John Grady is a pretty unusual cowboy. He thinks a lot. He's "deep". But to suggest that he is speaking in the sort of convoluted syntax more appropriate to bad Cavalier poetry, and in terms more appropriate to an advanced philosophy class...that's a very poor use of free indirect discourse. For someone like Jane Austen (brilliant at the technique, by the way), free indirect discourse is indicated less syntactically (:"John Grady asked him..." ) and more by the tone that the narrator's prose assumes (see Austen's passages on Mrs. Norris' reactions to Fanny in Mansfield Park). Nothing that I saw in the first few chapters indicated that John Grady ever had a tendency to sound like that. In fact, one of the things that rapidly turned me off about the novel was just how banal and quotidien the dialogue was...sure cowboys may talk like that, but do you need to torture the readers with their "Nice day." "Sure is." "Goin' somewhere?" sort of exchanges, which far too often seemed to be there as scenery rather than plot-movers.

So, having just written a bit of an invective on the poor man's style, I do think that the derision in which Myers holds his work (and even his character) in is unwarrented. I'm willing to believe that he has nice Biblical themes. I can see justification for his use of Biblical language as the default narrative tone (although that's not helped much by his hyper-realism à la Zola). The first sentence of his that Myers quotes is entirely unobjectionable. Quite good, in fact. And I have heard that "The Road" is excellent.

The real point that irks me about it is simply what Myers put his finger on. It's too self-conscious. Too "artsy," while not being genuinely artistic. And that goes for so much contemporary prose. Perhaps I'll get past that one day and be able to give some of these writers the sort of thematic or plot-centered reading they may or may not deserve. Until then, such vaguely evocative sentences as "War was always here. Before man was, war waited for him. The ultimate trade awaiting its ultimate practitioner" will be to me as Zola or Gide: rather clever in their own way, but dreadfully disappointing as a whole.

Also, it is not inherently literary to despise punctuation.

01 September, 2010

Grammatical...Existentialism?

Ok, I am busy. But this is far too marvelous to remain unexpressed for long. A bit of background: I am taking Elementary Latin here at UD because I always did fight my mother tooth and nail about taking it in middle school...and here I am having gone to Rome, regretting all the time not having followed her sage advice. Well, as you can imagine, much of the "civilized" world is not up to snuff with their grammar. So the first assignment for this class was to parse several sentences from Genesis and the famously long and tortured opening sentence of Paradise Lost (the exercise decreased my already poor opinion of Milton, I'm afraid). My roommate and I went vastly overboard in completing the exercise, of course. No need to get way down into details like relative clauses and subclauses; the teacher was looking more for "this is a verb, transitive, past tense". One place in particular that had confused us to no end, however, was a line from Genesis that runs: "And God said, 'Let there be light'" , etc. Well, imperatives are always a bit tricky. And the usual rule of implicit subjects that I usually hazily follow when I am compelled to have anything to do with them is kind of hard to apply in this case. Who on earth would God be commanding other than Himself? Which, of course, is an option that works syntactically but not grammatically.

But then there was all this "let be" nonsense (which reminds me unavoidably of that gorgeous conclusion of Hamlet's existential drama)--let being an intransitive helping verb, we later found. And the mysterious "there". What part of speech would "there", used clearly not as an adverb, but to signify the state of something's being in existence be? This is what I've been working up to all along. Wait for it...wait...this particular part of speech is known as the "Existential there". Really! This is no joke. They call it the existential there.

That's all I wanted to say, in point of fact. But it's kind of awesome, don't you think? Perhaps not quite as delightful to some, but there's nothing better (I just used it!) than all of the sudden finding a previously hidden potential for puns of epic proportion in, of all things, technical grammatical vocabulary.

22 July, 2010

A note

If I were to expand the post below, I'd add a rant about how capitalism is a completely artificial term as well as being impossibly hard to use. It's just a description of how things work, very naturally, in a free society, and could be seen in the ancient and medieval worlds too (except where feudalism was quite absolute); it's not a system. Unless of course you use it to mean our particular situation in which we're so lamentably removed from the concrete products of our work, in which case the confusion is multiplied.

"Capitalism" was first used, according to the OED, in the 1850s by Thackeray. Then the Marxists took it and ran with it.

On Capitalism

Thank you Karl Marx. Or perhaps more properly Friedrich Engels.

Capitalism is one of those words that is by this point in history just inherently frustrating. Like "existentialism" or "conservatism", there are by now so many different shades of meaning in the word that there exists by now practically nothing of the common ground of understanding necessary for rational communication on the subject. I am particularly attuned to a lot of this right now, partly because of my recent reading of Marxist criticism, partly because of conversations with friends, and partly because Georges Bernanos loathed it.

While there doesn't seem to be much controversy in protestant circles over it (at least not in your average, prosperity-gospel supporting church), Catholics tend to be dramatically divided between accepting and detesting it. As for the wild detestation, I have to blame some of that on the liberation theology that infected the Church in the 60s and 70s. But the really interesting thing is that this is something hated not merely by the pseudo-Marxist liberals (many of whom really do have the best of intentions in hating it, I think), but by solid, sincere, orthodox Catholics as well.

Why? Well, I think some of it is necessarily rooted in a certain hysteria that has grown up around the word for the past 50 years. Since I am not an economist, I take my basic definition of capitalism from Wikipedia (not originally, but for this post):

"Capitalism is an economic system in which the means of production are privately owned; supply, demand, price, distribution, and investments are determined mainly by private decisions in the free market, rather than by the state through central economic planning or through democratic planning; profit is distributed to owners who invest in businesses, and wages are paid to workers employed by businesses."


Usually Catholics who object to Capitalism are objecting to a habit in society of rampant acquisitiveness, exercised with little or no attitude of responsibility towards the less fortunate (certainly what Bernanos hated, although he also hated democracy...mostly because he understood it badly too). But is that at all what is being outlined in this very basic definition of the system, which is how I and my family have understood it for as long as I can remember? Let's see: lack of state control of the products of individual labor and entrustment of those products to the individual to dispose of as he or she sees fit. Now several things come to mind when I read that. First is the analogy to the liberty of the person allowed for in all realms of life by the United States Constitution; it's the same principle, just applied less universally to the economic sphere. Second, where is greed the rule of the system? It's basic justice that a person is allowed to keep freely the result of his own expenditure of energy, whether physical, mental, or imaginative. Just as governments exist for the sake of preserving this and other rights, without ever having its own independent right (in my opinion) to determine that the citizens must exercise their rights in these particular ways, "capitalism" has no prerogative to demand that this uncensored exchange of goods be carried out in some Machiavellian power struggle of the strongest to benefit at the expense of the weak. Oppression of the poor is not in any way some inherent cardinal rule of capitalism.

However, continue to read on Wikipedia, and you'll soon realize where the confusion comes in. Because "Capitalism also refers to the process of capital accumulation." Now, read that out logically and you'll see that it would refer to a process of making capital accumulation the central activity of life, even the element which gives it its meaning: an "ism", as Chesterton observes, is a thing that preoccupies and monopolizes a life: Nazism, liberalism, Catholicism (the only thing that can properly do that, of course, is the last, because it happens to be true. How nice).

Now, that, I have no problems with objecting to. Of course that will end up being Machiavellian: if your only goal in life is to make more money than the other man, than of course you'll be offending basic principles of justice, society will be greedy and materialistic, and the poor will be crushed (or at least despised) by the rich.

Yet the interesting thing is that whereas Marxist propaganda, starting right back there with Das Kapital , has inspired us to generally accept without question the absurd equation of a fault that the system may allow for (greed) with the system itself (free market). And add to this the further absurdity that this fault is in fact destructive of that first definition of Capitalism. If the economy becomes nothing more than ruthless suppression of the weak by the strong, that free-market principle is no longer a free market principle except for the tiny oligarchy of those at the top. To take some examples from history: that's precisely what was happening in American society in the 1800s. The railroad magnates, mill owners, etc. all treating their workers with complete lack of regard for their human dignity and destroying any form of capitalism for these workers (they were not, recall, in control of the products of their work). Then in the 1920s: rampant stock market speculation (greed), with the economy by now so far removed from concrete products of labor, sent the entire system crashing down and paved the way for the beginnings of the proto-socialist welfare state.

And now look at what we have. Greed infecting society on all levels, not the prerogative any more of a few clever businessmen, but everyone's right. And what are we getting now? Strengthened capitalism? Are you seeing increasing control of the money you earn (or if you happen to be a farmer, the goods you produce)? Isn't it more the fact that the attitude of greed supposedly inherent in and peculiar to socialism has in point of fact led directly to an all-encompassing state-regulated economy in which more and more of the individual's earnings are put at the disposal of a Big Brother government to ensure that the avarice which has infected modern society ever since we decided that money is the only thing to live for is at least partially sated...so that we have a populace increasingly dependent on the government for its bread and circuses and no means to the financial independence that could allow us to follow our principles and help our neighbor instead of fund the video-game addiction of some down and out punk who never wanted to work anyway?

30 June, 2010

Robin Hood?

I saw this movie a month or so ago when just coming off final exams for the Spring semester. It was one of the worst movies I've seen (other than the heinous romance novel turned film-played-for-obvious-teenage-girl-squealing-moments called Twilight). The reasons for my hearty dislike of it are manifold. There's the shoddiness of the storyline, predictability of script, lack of chemistry between Cate Blanchett and Russell Crowe, and the worst of all, gross historical inaccuracy. I wouldn't even mention any of this, however, since it's my general rule to not talk about movies here. Yet I was just catching up over at The Daily Kraken, and found this gem that says much of what I wanted to say--or rather, shout to the general population of Irving, TX as we drove back to campus-- about the disastrous historical errors that made the movie so much more heinous than it already was.

"Scott’s eye for history is what sees this movie maintain that Magna Carta was drafted by some non-entity stonemason who was summarily executed for his troubles; that Richard the Lionhearted died years earlier than he actually died, while doing something he never did, for reasons that were ridiculous, as a result of events that conspicuously never happened; that the same Richard spoke English like a native, rather than scarcely at all; that speaking French was unusual or uncommon in England at the time, and a sign of dirty doings afoot; that Philip II himself could speak English well, let alone fluently; that Philip II was a sinister brooding figure rather than an immensely popular reformer; that Philip II secretly invaded England rather than only taking English holdings in what is now France; and so on and so on."


Well said.

Of course if you really wanted to write a full critique (not the intention of this quote) you could complain for a bit about the complete lack of understanding of the Middle Ages anywhere in American society except in a few dusty old back corners of the history departments of a few Ivy League schools who have shamefacedly preserved a few relics of the days when liberal arts actually meant something...

But I do that enough in real life.

27 June, 2010

Terry Eagleton and Wuthering Heights

I'm currently reading Terry Eagleton's book "The English Novel," which is really quite a good read, despite the fact that he's a Marxist critic, and I entered it a bit suspicious of his likely ideological bias. That exists, it certainly does, and I find rather skews his vision of what a novel is (is it really only a social instrument"? I disagree, at any rate), but whenever he delves down into criticism of/commentary on specific novels, he's quite perceptive. The key to this seems to be a certain intellectual honesty, by which Eagleton may heartily disagree with, say, Jane Austen's overall worldview, and certainly finds much problematic in the claim that any sort of absolute truth can be located by human society (it can't, that's why we have the Church, my friends, and that's what will always be missed as long as people insist upon considering the Church a purely social institution...), but he's willing to take the authors' ideas as they are. Thus you have here a genuinely remarkable admission that, yes, Jane Austen is a moral figure on the model of Aristotle and Homer, looking at a person's proper role in society as the context in which they live a moral life.

I'll take one example which has been rather on my mind of late. Wuthering Heights. He gives a remarkably "conservative" interpretation of this novel. Refreshingly, given how often that book has been distorted by readings that see it as little more than a sordid romance novel (think Stephanie Meyer and Twilight). Fairly obviously, even though I read it years and years ago, it is in part a serious critique of the Byronic hero, showing how uncontrolled "naturalness" in Heathcliff results in a grotesquely unnatural character who is willing to act atrociously to every person around him, using them more blatantly than the entire utilitarian society which he tries to escape. In short, Heathcliff is not a romantic hero. He's an antihero, and his romance with Catherine is a wild, egotistical fall into passion that is simply a hiatus in his general project of manipulating the society he loathes in order to gain revenge on basically everyone who's ever offended him. I do think Emily Bronte is more of a moralist here than Eagleton seems to give her credit for being, but he does a very excellent job of bringing out the contradictions inherent in Heathcliff's and Catherine's alternate acceptance of, then rejection of society--in both cases they are really using it as an objective standard to measure themselves against. Heathcliff, from what I can remember, pretty much defines himself in terms of his antagonism towards society, but in doing so, he's implicitly accepting the demands it makes on him as real...you can only "throw off" real constraints.

Now Eagleton more or less concludes claiming that the problem is that society exists in anything like a form that makes objective demands on its members. Or that's more or less the claim holding up most of the book. You can understand immediately why a Marxist would have a problem with that. Or really why any modern liberal would: human freedom has become the paramount value in their perspective. Any external force that influences behavior is an illegitimate invasion of human freedom--a capital crime.

I disagree with him here. The thing he misses--or rather, doesn't really miss, but is unwilling to admit--is that there may be some objective standard outside the purely human sphere of action, that human society, for all it's internal insecurity and propensity for error, may ideally be based on. And thus I see Bronte's suspicion of radical breaks with this society in terms of the ideal Jane Austen puts forward and can't bring myself to disagree with her all that much. What Eagleton has a problem with is that this ideal is rarely--one may even say never--really met. My question is...because an ideal is constantly unachieved, does that make it illegitimate in itself?

I've far too little time now to present a defense of that my actual position, or even to try to explain it more clearly, but the question should make things clear enough. Far too much to say, and work summons.

11 June, 2010

"An Ecclesial Existence"

I was delighted to find that Hans Urs Von Balthasar had written on Bernanos when I was searching Amazon for books related to my thesis topic.It was one of those innocuous-looking Ignatius Press "Communio"-line books. Usually you order them and they're tiny things, practically pamphlets (I admit, most of my experience in this line is Pieper, so my word is hardly authoritative). Given my associations with this publishing line, and the fact that I hardly expected a renowned theologian to be devoting a tome to my author-of-choice (who is so greatly undervalued in a world that often associates angst and angst alone with great literature), I was surprised to receive a 600+ pager in the mail a few days after ordering it.

Needless to say, I have not finished this book yet. Within the first hundred pages, however, it is (as one might hope) pretty clear the sort of approach Balthasar is taking. He's far too interested in--one might even say, enchanted by--Bernanos the man to veer off into abstractions about him as some archetype of the Christian writer. Yet somehow he does manage to consider him primarily as an archetype of the Christian writer while avoiding all sense that he's merely abstracting from the man. Sounds a bit paradoxical, but there it is. Balthasar takes Bernanos' life and his ideas, and uses them to present a picture of what the ideal of the Christian author is both in Bernanos' eyes and in Balthasar's own, and then in showing this slips in a hint or two that Bernanos' life, not merely his ideas, supports this ideal.

That's not to say that the book is a hagiography. Part of the respect Balthasar pays this writer is that of recognizing his faults, of pointing them out rather keenly--he never takes him as something superhuman, preferring to show openly Bernanos' failures, but always presenting them as they may be most charitably understood. And in this charitable understanding, one realizes that even these failures often contribute to Bernanos' overall mission. The sensitivity and vehemence of his personality, though his struggles against these never actually overcame them, manage to inform and give vitality to his desire to communicate the drama of God's relationship with man to a world he saw as almost bereft of the proper disposition towards its Creator. A world that is far from God, but never without hope, because the power of grace--Bernanos' most firm conviction, in Balthasar's mind--can do with it precisely what it can do with Bernanos' own failures: redeem them by making them a part of the work which it is only half consciously yearning to join.

The writer's job is not, then, some hallowed vocation above all other vocations, but rather a hallowed vocation like all other lay vocations: the writer's goal is to bring the world to the consciousness of its desires. And if he succeeds in so doing--as Aristotle, Aquinas, Bernanos and Balthasar would all agree--he will simply be bringing it to an awareness of its final end; as a Catholic would say, to an awareness that all its desires can be satisfied only in responding to God and His plan of grace for the world.

02 June, 2010

Bernanos on Jeanne d'Arc

St. Joan of Arc is probably one of my all-time favorite people, as may have come out at various points in the past on this blog. So when I discovered that the French author on whom I'll almost certainly be writing my thesis was not only married to one of the only living descendants of that saint's brother, but also was likewise fascinated by her character and by her sudden and still (to my mind) almost inexplicably mysterious appearance in history (I can't stop to explain now: just think for a minute, if you consider Catholic saints anything real--God getting involved in politics? But that can't be the explanation...why was she there, and what precisely was she doing?), well, given this, I was happy indeed. In fact, one of the first quotes of his I've come across in my preliminary scouring of the internet for all thing related to Georges Bernanos is from an essay of his about her. (An essay, which, I'm sorry to say, is almost impossible to find: the best I could scout out was a version which I could order from France for 20 euros and a ludicrous shipping charge.) Here's said quote:

"Just when the old man raises a finger to set a thousand typist in action, just when the peace of the world is about to emerge from all this machinery, in comes a young girl, mocking and tender, who belongs to no one, and whose soft voice answers the political theologians with old sayings and proverbs, after the manner of shepherds. The democratic abbes of the illustrious University of Paris, with their dream of some sort of universal republic; the distinguished pacifist prelates, dazzled by the dollar rate and impressed by the solidity of the good Burgundian coins; the Carmelite Eustache, making up to the Communist flayers of the Butchers' Corporation; the graduates of the Rue Clos-Bruneau; the clerics of the Rouen Chapter and those of the Chapter of M. Julie Benda - all these old men, many of them under thirty, look enviously at this little France who is so fresh, so mischievous, who is awfully afraid of being burnt, but still more afraid of telling a lie."

10 May, 2010

Fictional Prose Narrative

That's the subject of Lit Trad IV here at UD. For the final, we're being asked to consider (among other things) the question of what FPN is and why it matters. Here's a small and poorly edited portion of my initial thoughts on the matter.

So, Fictional Prose Narrative is a manner of imaginatively engaging reality that examines particular actions of characters as they respond to certain situations and environments. Imaginative engagement with reality in this context indicates that quality proper to the single, unified action of the narrative, that is, of the plot, in fiction is that of being not real (in the sense of being non-actual, non-historical), but rather of being realistic, or probable. Whatever the details of this form of literature—however its episodes are arranged to form a coherent plot, whoever the agents of this action may be, whatever the thought behind the action, and whether a first or third person narration technique presents it—in its essence, fictional prose narrative aims at the pleasure of understanding human action, not in specific historical circumstances, but in terms of suppositions and possibilities that are nonetheless grounded in the ultimate realities of human existence.

To claim for this genre the quality of being “not real but realistic” may seem at first an oxymoron. How can something participate in certain attributes of realism without being actually real itself? It is useful here to draw a distinction between different understandings of “reality,” and this returns us to the distinction between history and fiction implied above. Fiction is not “real” in its particulars. That is, it does not recount a factual account of what actually happened to real people in real time during one era or another of this familiar world. Rather, its realism is found in its accordance with general laws or patterns of the ways that individual humans tend to interact with one another or with their world. To put it in terms of authorial method, one can see every work of fiction as the product of an author's sorting-through of his or her own experience and observation of real human action, and the application of these observations to imaginary circumstances and characters. In more philosophical language, then, what occurs in the creation of fiction to give it its peculiar character of real unreality is the abstraction of universal principals from particulars and reapplication of these universals to new, imaginary, and humanly-created particulars.

That being the case, what is the use of such a manner of imaginatively engaging reality? Certainly, it has very little “utility” in terms of profit and production. Its importance lies, rather, in the Aristotelian notion of catharsis, a concept that can be at least partly explained in terms of the purpose of fiction. The purging of strong emotions described by the term is achieved through the vicarious experience of sorrow, laughter, or joy accessible in literature. The result of an encounter with archetypally familiar situations and characters, engaged in human action that is akin to the human action of one's own experience, can often be an invitation to break out of the paralyzing self-awareness that too often accompanies isolated experience. To vicariously undergo the emotions associated with joy and suffering through intellectual engagement with the actions of characters who are not identical with the reader, but who the reader can identify with is to realize the non-exclusivity of such experience. It is to lose something of the painful preoccupation with the self that results in large part from a sense of the uniqueness of this experience. Most importantly, to read good fiction is to learn what this experience may mean, in the view of not just any currently fashionable author, but of the “wise of all the ages,” whose interpretation of the meaning of human life as revealed in the imaginative worlds of their applications of general principals to individual situations the reader can absorb and make his own, agreeing with them, modifying them, or rejecting them, but always learning something about how to make sense of his own experience in their light.

02 May, 2010

The Terrible Turner Thesis

So, in 1893, at a meeting of the American Historical Exhibition at the World's Columbian Exhibition, Frederick Jackson Turner presented his famous "frontier thesis". Read it and weep at the redefinition of America. Unless you agree with him, in which case read it and rejoice to identify yourself with the progressives who are currently mandating health care. To each his own.

Basically Turner is reinterpreting what Columbus (the theme of the Columbian Exhibition, after all) means to America. In a nutshell, this is what he does in the piece:

He outlines something he calls the "germ theory of politics" (often propounded by the advocates of a Germanic peoples reading of America which is as mistaken as his is, but not associated only with these sorts) according to which American history is defined by its population, which carries "germs" of European tradition to America and allows them to germinate (ha!) here. He fails to consider (except in a slight nod to Mediterranean civilization in the closing paragraph) the possibility that America might be at its core an attempt to preserve the fundamental principles of liberty recognized by Western culture since its inception (cf. the Gelasian principle as stated in 492). Rather, America is about the frontier, about man's "unprecedented" encounter with a pure "state of nature," which conveniently strips all vestiges of tradition from the immigrants.

His declaration that to be American is not to be German--the biggest support he really offers for his interpretation--is right on enough. But he extrapolates this to mean that to be an American is to have left behind all traditions of culture and religion (despite the obvious fact that these are the root of our Constitution, no less) and to adopt instead a purely economically motivated definition of liberty as our national telos. America, he claims, is about the ability, the freedom, to move West, to gain lebensraum, so to speak. It is based upon a freedom of license rather than upon an attempt to discern the God-given natural rights of all men. Thus he objects to the "slavery question" being taken as the crux of American national development. After all, to focus on slavery and on America's response to it is to too strongly highlight the project of preserving our constitutional and natural liberties for Turner's taste. The poor fellow would prefer to see the Civil War utterly one-dimensionally, in terms only of a struggle for economic dominance via the Westward-moving juggernaut of the railroad (cf. the Lincoln-Douglass debates, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, for more on the influence of railroad building on northern political policy--and then note that Lincoln won). In other words, his interpretation of Columbus-as-ultimate-American is a picture of Columbus-as-rejector-of-tradition, concerned only with economic gain rather than with the spreading of a tradition rooted (despite its very human imperfections) in natural law.

Note that that's unfortunately the image of Columbus that somewhat prevails. And it's quite wrong. Columbus, whether you like him for this or not (and I don't agree with him entirely here, by any means), was rather a fanatical proponent of spreading religious tradition throughout the world, and rather too inclined to neglect science altogether in his attempts to do so. So that when the quite sufficiently-educated Spanish monks tried to convince him that his plan wouldn't work because the world was far too large for him to get all the way to China without dying for lack of supplies (of course they didn't believe in the flat earth: as my Am Civ teacher likes to point out, anyone who's even glanced at one of the old Spanish statues of the Christ child holding the orbis terrarum, the sphere of the earth, finds that myth knocked right off its feet, as if there wasn't plenty of other evidence to disprove it). Go ahead and read some of Columbus' letters and diaries, and you'll find a wealth of evidence pointing to a man so religiously dedicated to bringing about a quicker Second Coming of Christ that he wanted to devote his life to evangelizing the entire world as quickly as possibly. You won't find anything of the commonly fictionalized man of science, impatient with the close-mindedness of the greatest scientists of the late Renaissance, and devoted to discovery for the sake of discovery. Obviously, fanaticism of this sort is rather problematic, however sincere the man was, and I don't necessarily agree with his project, though I find it admirable in some respects.

Turner was defining him as the latter sort, merely by presenting this paper at the World's Columbian Exposition. Of course, the real practical question resulting from his paper is whether Americans in general are like this, not so much whether Columbus was. A definitive academic answer would require pages of exposition and proof. If you want an easier to come by response, I suggest talking to one or two of the more recently emigrated families you happen to know. Preferably if one of them happens to be Irish or Italian, in which case, they can probably remember the coming of their great-grandparents to this country with almost as intense emotion as the ancestors themselves must have felt. If you come away with a sense that "yes, I suppose that America is just all about becoming tabula rasa, liberated from any sense of familial or cultural inheritance, side with Turner. If the family retains a tendency to gripe about English wrongs or obsess about Grandma's meatballs, however...take your Turner with a grain of salt.

30 April, 2010

The Long Telegram

George Kennan's "Long Telegram" (available here) is probably one of the most famous documents of the Cold War era, an over 5000-word telegram sent to American Secretary of State in 1946 when Kennan, the head of the US mission in Moscow at the time was asked for an explanation for recent (remember, just post-WWII) Soviet behavior. It's a pretty remarkable document, not merely for the way it was sent, but for the effect it had on American policy; it managed to explain the basic ideology of the Soviets so well that it was almost single-handedly responsible for the development of the American "containment" policy with respect to Soviet countries. Essentially, the soviets had to “be contained by the adroit and vigilant application of counter-force at a series of constantly shifting geographical and political points.” Kennan was hurriedly called back to Washington after this quite absurdly lengthy but effective telegram (a telegram, mind you!) and made deputy of foreign affairs at the National War College. And his ideas, well those became even more famous via the Truman Doctrine: "it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures." A logical application of Kennan's call for containment: defend other countries about to fall to soviet power from the aggression of the Stalinist regime that, as Kennan claims, "seek[s] security only in patient but deadly struggle for total destruction of rival power, never in compacts and compromises with it."

One problem of his telegram, at least arguably, however, is the fact that he seems to attribute the aggression of Stalinism not to the principles of Communism, but to the Russian national character:
At bottom of Kremlin's neurotic view of world affairs is traditional and instinctive Russian sense of insecurity. Originally, this was insecurity of a peaceful agricultural people trying to live on vast exposed plain in neighborhood of fierce nomadic peoples. To this was added, as Russia came into contact with economically advanced West, fear of more competent, more powerful, more highly organized societies in that area. But this latter type of insecurity was one which afflicted rather Russian rulers than Russian people; for Russian rulers have invariably sensed that their rule was relatively archaic in form fragile and artificial in its psychological foundation, unable to stand comparison or contact with political systems of Western countries. For this reason they have always feared foreign penetration, feared direct contact between Western world and their own, feared what would happen if Russians learned truth about world without or if foreigners learned truth about world within. And they have learned to seek security only in patient but deadly struggle for total destruction of rival power, never in compacts and compromises with it.


Marxist ideology is to some limited extent to blame for the soviet attitude, but only insofar as the soviets took these ideas and twisted them to suit their own purposes and justify their ideas. In other words, the USSR is an evil empire, but only because of its leadership, not because of any intrinsically misplaced ideas about human nature, etc. (if you don't agree that the ideas are misplaced, I'm not intending to prove anything just now, just observing that that's his position).

After establishment of Bolshevist regime, Marxist dogma, rendered even more truculent and intolerant by Lenin's interpretation, became a perfect vehicle for sense of insecurity with which Bolsheviks, even more than previous Russian rulers, were afflicted. In this dogma, with its basic altruism of purpose, they found justification for their instinctive fear of outside world, for the dictatorship without which they did not know how to rule, for cruelties they did not dare not to inflict, for sacrifice they felt bound to demand. In the name of Marxism they sacrificed every single ethical value in their methods and tactics. Today they cannot dispense with it. It is fig leaf of their moral and intellectual respectability. Without it they would stand before history, at best, as only the last of that long succession of cruel and wasteful Russian rulers who have relentlessly forced country on to ever new heights of military power in order to guarantee external security of their internally weak regimes. This is why Soviet purposes most always be solemnly clothed in trappings of Marxism, and why no one should underrate importance of dogma in Soviet affairs.



Another interesting thing about Kennan is that after writing this telegram and then the essay "The Sources of Soviet Conduct", he basically spent the entirety of a long (but much less illustrious) political career denying everything he ever said here, going around to university campuses and telling people that "well, yes, that's what I said, but what I meant was..."

Interesting fellow.

29 April, 2010

Dégénérations

I don't usually post about music here, of course, but I have to make a mention of a recent band that's been dominating my playlists recently. "Mes Aieux" is a French Canadian band, very overlooked like most French Canadian musicians, but really excellent in their ability to bring together modern soft-rock and traditional French Canadian music genres. Many songs, such as "Notre Dame du Bon Conseil" (Our Lady of Good Counsel) are both breathtakingly beautiful musically and have really gorgeous music videos.

One of my favorites by far, however, is "Dégénérations". Kind of an awesome.

The lyrics:

Ton arrière-arrière-grand-père, il a défriché la terre
Ton arrière-grand-père, il a labouré la terre
Et pis ton grand-père a rentabilisé la terre
Pis ton père, il l’a vendue pour devenir fonctionnaire

Et pis toi, mon p’tit gars, tu l’sais pus c’que tu vas faire
Dans ton p’tit trois et demi bien trop cher, frette en hiver
Il te vient des envies de devenir propriétaire
Et tu rêves la nuit d’avoir ton petit lopin de terre

Ton arrière-arrière-grand-mère, elle a eu quatorze enfants
Ton arrière-grand-mère en a eu quasiment autant
Et pis ta grand-mère en a eu trois c’tait suffisant
Pis ta mère en voulait pas ; toi t’étais un accident

Et pis toi, ma p’tite fille, tu changes de partenaire tout l’temps
Quand tu fais des conneries, tu t’en sauves en avortant
Mais y’a des matins, tu te réveilles en pleurant
Quand tu rêves la nuit d’une grande table entourée d’enfants

Ton arrière-arrière-grand-père a vécu la grosse misère
Ton arrière-grand-père, il ramassait les cennes noires
Et pis ton grand-père – miracle ! – est devenu millionnaire
Ton père en a hérité, il l’a tout mis dans ses RÉERs

Et pis toi, p’tite jeunesse, tu dois ton cul au ministère
Pas moyen d’avoir un prêt dans une institution bancaire
Pour calmer tes envies de hold-uper la caissière
Tu lis des livres qui parlent de simplicité volontaire

Tes arrière-arrière-grands-parents, ils savaient comment fêter
Tes arrière-grands-parents, ça swignait fort dans les veillées
Pis tes grands-parents ont connu l’époque yé-yé
Tes parents, c’tait les discos ; c’est là qu’ils se sont rencontrés

Et pis toi, mon ami, qu’est-ce que tu fais de ta soirée ?
Éteins donc ta tivi ; faut pas rester encabané
Heureusement que dans’ vie certaines choses refusent de changer
Enfile tes plus beaux habits car nous allons ce soir danser…


If you can't read French, the basic idea of this song is "the world had better get back to basics", specifically to a real respect for hard work and the family. I was rather pleased at the explicit reference to abortion as a product of a self-centered, productivity obsessed society.

Here's the music video, also.

16 April, 2010

Romantic Restructuring of the Concept of Faith

So, as most of us know very well, the world was "Turned upside down" over the course of the late 1700s up to the end of the 20th century by more revolutions than the Americans' mild revolt against British consolidation of powers. (If you get the reference to Yorktown, just go with it, if not, see here.) Not least among the cataclysms of the age (at least from the perspective of its contemporaries) was the so-called "crisis of faith" that baffled (particularly protestant) Christendom in the wake of the Scientific revolution.

Looking back on all that now, a sophisticated Catholic of the 20th century--post "Fides et Ratio" and post- the countless other affirmations of the essential compatability of science and faith--may be rather amused by what will strike him or her as a laughable religious naiveté. I mean, really, must one's beliefs actually be shaken to the core by the simple discovery that evolution may have occured, when science so patently would never be able to provide an account of how that evolution began (because we can only work with what we have evidence of in science: please don't bother us with speculations about the beginning of matter because that means reaching back to a prematerial time--if such a thing is even conceivable on scientific terms--for example). I mean, unless your entire faith is based on a fundamentalist literal understanding of the Bible; as "Dei Verbum" reminds Catholics, of course, "fundamentalism actually invites people to a kind of intellectual suicide". And here's where we see that happening at its finest. People saying: oh, well, the Bible doesn't describe evolution, so if evolution is true, the Bible must be false. Forgetting, of course, that the Bible may be taken as using a mythical genre in certain parts, a historical genre in others, etc, without a whit of its essential truth being taken from it.

I don't want to condemn the age, certainly. Many people did keep their heads, and it's interesting enough that the few scientists of the time who successfully integrated faith and their work were actually Catholic. Catholics having on the whole something of a horror of fundamentalism. Yes, even back then. I'm thinking in particular of Antoine Lavoisier, Louis Pasteur, Marie Curie. (Gotta love your French Catholics, even though American Catholics who have some sort of national guilt at not being quite Puritan enough tend to detest them Just for good measure. Can't like those Papists...)

Anyway, all of that is merely a long-winded explanation of the situation the Romantic authors of the early 1800s found themselves in. Instead of trying to genuinely reintegrate religious faith with the new, post-Enlightenment world, the panicked and threw out the faith aspect along with most of the rest of their generation (again, I'm judging these people in very gross generalities). Northrop Frye, in "A Study of English Romanticism", explains the conundrum of these artists very astutely in terms of the scientific discrediting of the age-old mythical stucture of the cosmos. That is, the symbolic notions of the geo-centric world, the heavenly spheres, the notion of Divine Right in law, etc, were knocked to the ground by Copernicus and his descendents. Notice that I said symbolic. Part of the problem here is people falling into suicidal literalism again. The myth isn't part of the Word of God, but it had explained it for so long that people began to forget that a myth is a metaphor. Never a scientific fact. A way, rather, of making sense of the more universal structures that aren't within science's realm at all.

Yet with that model "discredited," the Romantics weren't willing to let go of the belief that something must be more important than 1+1=2 or the law of gravitation. They reclaim the notion of faith, but now limit it strictly to being "poetic" faith, in which the subject-object distinction created between man and nature by both the Christian affirmation of man's divine telos and the rationalist "clockwork universe" model is collaped back into a neo-pagan reidentification of the workings of man's mind with nature itself. Nature mirrors man's mental workings because she is not merely a mediator, a symbol of divine truth (as the Christian worldview would have it), but is in fact the source of the sublime that works on his intellect. Access to the transcendent is thus achieved directly through communion with nature, and the "original sin" myth of Christianity (don't worry that I'm a heretic: I mean "myth" in the sense of universal explanatory structure that may very well be true) is replaced with the "loss of original identity" myth. (I'm drawing on Frye for this bit.) That is to say, man's fallen state is not characterized by propensity to sin, but by a self-consciousness that destroys man's innocent state of communion with the source of sublimity by bringing him to an awareness of the subject-object relation with nature.

Essentially, as Frye observes, the Romantics take the Christian myth, and redefine it so as to have a "faith" that is compatible with the new order, but which still combats pure rationalism. But I am at a loss as to see how this should help them much at all. What are they doing on the most basic level? Well, they take divine transcendence out of the picture and replace it with Nature. Thus the sublime is now at one remove from us instead of at two (even here, you'd have to be pretty heretical in your Christianity in the first place to believe that we only have symbolic access to God such that he would be two removes from us to begin with. After all, Catholics believe that we don't just see Him and talk directly to Him; we eat Him. But that's another story, since we're in protestant, often fashionably liberal, England here). This is patently unhelpful though, since there's still that first leap of faith to get over: why should nature be the source of transcendence any more than God? They respond to the alleged lack of rationality in Christianity by denying that reason has anything at all to do with access to the transcendent. It's all in the "imagination", or the "poetic genius," as Blake likes to call it. Really, that if anything weakens the structural backing of faith. Why in the world should it be a relief to us to say: oh, well, it's not supposed to make rational sense, you're just supposed to get a feeling of sublimity from Nature? This requires as much--in fact, a lot more--blind faith than Christianity at its best does. We'd prefer to say: "Well, here are a ton of fairly compelling reasons why you should believe that this is real. Yes, we can't ultimately prove them, because they have their sources in what cannot be empirically measured, but you know, your scientific empericalism takes a bit of faith (please see David Hume) too, so what are we concerned about there?

Basically, all of this is to say that the Romantics seem to think that Pantheism is the answer to the crisis of faith. If you have problems with religious faith, I can't see that you're going to solve those effectively with pantheism, however. The biggest argument in favor of their approach, in fact, is simply that they get away from the language of religious faith that was then in such disfavor. So they rather got themselves to be taken more seriously than some raving preacher might. (Can you imagine Blake* as a cleric of the Church of England?)

Nonetheless, once you look past the veneer of "we're different from the religious people because we want faith to be individual and sourced in Nature", the Romantics really do have a very weak foundation for their "religion of poetry". At least, if they want it to be a serious contender against the forces of rationalism. So one can see without much difficulty why it collapsed so soon into the darkness of the Victorian poetic crisis of faith. That particular crisis I will be writing a paper on shortly, so more might be posted on it later.


*Of course, Blake in particular (he seems to be the only one to consider the relationship of religious faith and poetic faith very explicitly) does have some very legitimate gripes against the conventionalization of faith via the general political correctness of adopting certain tenets of Anglicanism in 19th century England. His complaints about "right being wrong" and wrong being right are fairly justified. If only he had realized that the Catholics would heartily agree with most of his complaints, he might not have misidentified this conventionalization as a problem intrinsic in Christianity.

24 March, 2010

Teufelsdröckh

Aha! The most recent Am Civ class has cast a wonderful light upon the Teufelsdröckh chapter whose references to Wagner so mystified me earlier. German Romanticism as it connects to American Transcendentalism! There, my friends, is the key. Henry Adams liked neither one, particularly as the wife who committed suicide during that 20 years of silence was an American (Concord) transcendentalist who followed in her mother's, aunt's, sister's and brother's footsteps in deciding that a clock-work universe with an indifferent God wasn't worth living in.

German Romanticism -> Transcendentalism -> Existentialism?

That's the question. I believe a defensible argument could be made for their essential similarity and, who knows, maybe Henry Adams has already made one. I will continue to read and see.

New Links

So, as you can probably tell, this past couple of days has been my "lets go do a ton of stuff to the blog that I've pretty much neglected for two weeks" week.

Aside from thinking obsessively about Romanticism, Moby Dick, Henry Adams, and Existentialism (oh you wonderful 19th century!) for the past semester, I've also been discovering and adding links for some excellent blogs.

Among the links on the sides, you'll find "Túrin Speaks", a blog by a fellow UD student who's quite widely read and is studying English as well (the blog also includes a fair amount of math posts for those readers who like numbers). "The Daily Kraken" is one I only just found, but seems to have some excellent things to say on religion, politics, and art; it also includes movie reviews. "Geopolitical" is less a blog than a series of well-polished articles by J.R. Nyquist: I've been reading these obsessively of late, so well does their content mesh with my current interests; they are both well-written and highly informed.

Do check them out if you have any interest in those sorts of things!

22 March, 2010

The Quest for the Force

No, this post has nothing whatsoever to do with the unfortunate science fiction trilogy (more than that now?), "Star Wars" (I will probably never be able to get past the execrable acting and dismally waffling philosophy of that series).

Happily, my subject is Henry Adams instead. First off, Please tell me not that this book is convoluted or confusing! Its complexity pales in comparison to, say, that of Moby Dick, which itself is not such an arduous read, though certainly (like HA) deserving of multiple readings which will only flesh out a single strongly coherent argument.

For instance, he spends three of his post-twenty-years-of-silence chapters ("The Dynamo and the Virgin", "Twilight", and "Teufelsdrockh") reiterating the same essential point: explaining (more explicitly than is his usual ironic habit) his search for education as a search for a dynamic Force that gives history some direction and thus some meaning. This search he frames in terms (quite brilliantly) of a conflict between the power of Science and the power of Woman (take that, ye twentieth-century feminists!). Is the Dynamo or the Virgin (Woman imagined specifically as imaged in the figure of Mary, the mother of God) the real driving force of history? That's something I'll have to get into later; it's largely the focus of "The Dynamo and the Virgin" and "Teufelsdrockh", whereas "Twilight" has to take a bit of a time out to return to Adam's age old argument for the idea that there should be such a force to identify at all.

People need to recognize someunifying force if they're going to think at all. He comes into the chapter presupposing that, and proceeds to explain a bit. While the multitudinous heirs of the Enlightenment were invested in bringing to light such a panoply of seemingly unconnected bits of information, a similarly multitudinous series of drastically opposing "explanations" for how these might be thought to fit together were springing up on every side--Darwinism, chemistry, physics, progressive history:
All one's life, one had struggled for unity, and unity had always won. The National Government and the national unity had overcome every resistance, and the Darwinian evolutionists were triumphant over all the curates; yet the greater the unity and momentum, the worse became the complexity and the friction.

A strangely ambivalent statement. You'd think the man whose nostalgia for the 18th century world of the Founding Fathers, even for the unified world of Christian Medieval Europe, would hardly identify unity and directionality in history as itself the very source of multiplicity and the confusion of the early modern (1901) era. Now that's a taste of his irony coming through. Yes, national government and Darwin are examples of modern attempts at a synthesis, but that doesn't mean they succeed, despite his ironic praise of "the Darwinian evolutionists"' triumph "over all the curates". All these efforts for unity prove is that everyone wants it, that "the wisest of men could but imitate the Church, and invoke a 'larger synthesis' to unify the anarchy again". In actuality, for the thinking individual, Darwin (and his analogues in other disciplines--Hegel, for instance) doesn't have the final answers: "The ganoid fish [a subject of evolutionists' study] seemed to prove--to him--that it had selected neither new form nor new force, but that the curates were right in thinking that force could be increased in volume or raised in tintensity only by help of outside force...a little more, and he would be driven back on the old independence of species" (my emphasis).

Now please don't dismiss Mr. Adams as a stodgy old conservative afraid of scientific ideas. He was actually obsessed with science to an almost amusing degree throughout his life, and quite the rabid Darwinian (by his own account) as a young man. No, he's not afraid of evolutionary theory as it exists in biology. What he's protesting against is that that single biological concept (not less than physical theories about magnetism and electricity a little later) is being held up as an alternative to traditional faith. These modern "wise men" would have us believe not merely that Darwinism explains something, but that it explains everything.

Truly the animal that is to be trained to unity must be caught young. Unity is vision; it must have been part of the process of learning to see. The older the mind, the older its coomplexities, and the further it looks, the more it sees, until even the stars resolve themselves into multiples; yet the child will always see but one.

Aside from being an excellent bit of prose, this comment helps (ironically, once again) to further refine his position. Both the old mind and the child as depicted here are seeing part of a truth, but each one is to some extent missing the whole. The child--seen again and again in Henry Adams' depiction of his younger self--thirsts for the type of unity that all these theories attempt to provide, and has faith in man's potential to find it. In a way, the child is right. Unity is real, and it can be accessed by men. What he doesn't have such a strong natural instinct for is the idea that it can't be discovered by men. "For human purposes a point must always soon be reached where larger synthesis is suicide." In this, Henry Adams is shamelessly hearkening back to the traditional Christian conviction of the necessity of revelation to provide the final "synthesis" of history that human reason cannot discern for itself. As appealing as their claims to authority may be, Darwinism, Hegelianism, Marxism, Scientism, etc. are ultimately misleading in the way they narrow the meaning of the universe to whatever their proper discipline can comprehend.

This latter point is precisely what the older mind comes to comprehend. Attempted on a purely human level, the synthesis seems an impossibility, an invitation to ruin, an intellectual suicide. Complexity seems unavoidable as one begins to learn that while Darwin might have a decent explanation for the meaning of life and Hegel a slightly different one, the physicist and chemist is in possession of a hundred other facts that reduce the former to a jumble (though maybe one that can still be synthesized). And none of these have even the slightest explanation for the mysterious power of Woman--Adams' way of figuring those other forces of duty, faith, love, and family. Yet to ignore these (as is so often done) is to mutilate human history; one must simply take everything up to Descartes and lop it off ("Oh, those were just the 'Dark Ages'"), then proceed to explain the post-Cartesian believers in such antiquities as fascinating sociological relics of a long-extinct Age of Ignorance.

I'm getting ahead of myself. Woman vs. the Machine is a fight to save for a later post. All I'm trying to get at is the idea that once you've seen more of the world than the young Darwinian or young Hegelian, one human explanation for everything begins to seem a bit pale. Blast! Can't we have a sythesis after all then? Maybe we should just do as the turn-of-the-century society was beginning to do: "throw up [our] hands and [avow] that progress depended on studying each rock as a law to itself." Why not? Well, it all comes back to the very quotidian fact that we can't think, we can't see ("Unity is vision") except in context...of something. The mid twentieth century would begin to admit utter meaninglessness as a possible "explanation" for the world; cf. Jean-Paul Sartre and the other Existentialists for whom nothing means anything and only the stark fact of free choice has any reality. Henry Adams is not an existentialist. And who can blame him? Existentialism is really the most logical answer to anyone who tries to locate the core of reality in human measurements of a physical world, or even in human measurements of what various theoretical models of that world, but no one wants to be one. Sartre's students had an unfortunate tendency to throw themselves off bridges when hearing one of his particularly dismal proofs of the meaninglessness of life.

There's an alternative, of course. You could--but don't do it: you'll be anathema to the orthodoxy of modernism--you could search for that meaning...outside of human society. You could admit the fact that perhaps the faith of the Church, which Adams so frequently refers to in ironically degrading-but-really-uplifting-because-he's-echoing-the-modernists terms. Because that's what Adams wants you to get out of these chapters, "Twilight" in particular.

Henry Adams' desperate protest rather reminds me of Puddleglum's heroic speech in The Silver Chair, when the witch is trying to enchant away the childrens' belief that there is anything real beyond the dim, two-dimensional reality of her cave world: "Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all of those things—trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones."

Anyway, more to come, most likely. The book certainly deserves it.

Fall of the Republic?

"It appears that in all great crises of world history most people utterly deceive themselves as to where they stand, just as if Providence had drawn a veil over the impending disaster."
--Wilhelm Roepke

Quoted in an excellent and timely article by J.R. Nyquist.

In another article, this one specifically on the Fall of the Roman Republic and also worth reading, Nyquist examines the conception of liberty in law as being the unforced but ordered pursuit of a non-subjective justice. A pertinent passage

Cicero was the first to systematically promote the idea of a government of laws and not of men, based on justice. A commonwealth, said Cicero, is “an assemblage of people in large numbers associated in an agreement with respect to justice and a partnership for the common good.” According to Dickinson, “For Cicero the essence of tyranny is lawlessness; the two are synonymous. Where there is tyranny, there cannot be a state in any proper sense, since the essential characteristic of the state is law.” We may be reminded of George Orwell’s characterization of totalitarian socialism in his novel, 1984, as a “lawless order.” With Cicero we find that legitimate authority is always lawful, while illegitimate authority has the character of lawlessness. This line of thinking, developed by Cicero, heavily influenced modern thinkers from Montesquieu to Locke and Adam Smith. In Cicero’s view, freedom was made possible by a system of checks and balances in which no man or party could tyrannize over society. In this way, power could be limited, and all would be subject to the same rules. The objective of government, said Cicero, was to foster a harmonious state “by agreement among dissimilar elements, brought about by a fair and reasonable blending together of the upper, middle, and lower classes, just as if they were musical tones. What the musicians call harmony in song is concord in a State, the strongest and best bond of permanent union in any commonwealth; and such concord can never be brought about without the aid of justice.”

21 March, 2010

From Pope Gelasius' Letter to Emperor Anastasius


"There are two orders, O August Emperor, by which this world is principally ruled: the consecrated authority of the pontiffs, and royal power [auctoritas sacrata pontificum, et regalis potestas]. But the burden laid upon the priests in this matter is the heavier, for it is they who are to render an account at the Divine judgment even for the kings of men. Know, O most clement Son, that although you take precedence over the human race in dignity, nonetheless you bend your neck in devout submission to those who preside over things Divine, and look to them for the means of your salvation. In partaking of the heavenly sacraments, when they are properly dispensed, you acknowledge that you ought to be subject to the order of religion rather than ruling it…For if the ministers of religion, acknowledging that your rule, insofar as it pertains to the keeping of public discipline, has been given to you by Divine disposition, obey your laws, lest they seem to obstruct the proper course of worldly affairs: with what good will, I pray, ought you to obey those who have been charged with the dispensation of the holy mysteries?"

20 March, 2010

The Education of Henry Adams

This is a marvelous book. And I must say, that's not hyperbole in the least, despite the fact that beyond a few remaining strongholds of stodgy academia it's barely known. And that is despite the fact that it's a Pulitzer prize winner consistently reaching the pinnacle of lists of "Best Non-Fiction of all Time".

It is perhaps a tough read in certain respects. At least, if you go into it expecting a clear and direct account of precisely what Mr. Adams thinks about 19th and early 20th century America, you'll most likely toss the book across the room before getting through the first few chapters, frustrated by what seems egregiously scattered thought and woefully ambiguous attitudes towards everything he mentions. Don't read it that way. It's ironic, and obviously so, as long as you're alerted to the fact (I came into it alerted, fortunately).

It's superficially an account of Henry Adam's attempts to educate himself, yet its underlying aim is to delve into the heart of what America really means, to provide an account of the purpose of this country during a time when various attempts at consolidation of Senatorial power and the growth of utilitarianism throughout the western world was challenging the Founders' original conception of its purpose. Did I say challenging? The entire structure of academia and the practice of government at the time directly contradicted the idea that we're a government not of liberty for license but of liberty for excellence; that the Declaration of Independence was affirming not freedom from traditional structures, but recognizing the contemporary European attempts (especially in England and France) to collapse the boundaries between Church and state as antithetical to one of the most essential tenets of Christianity since the late Roman era (see Pope Gelasius' declaration of the necessary separation of Church and state all the way back in 492 AD: "There are two powers by which chiefly this world is ruled: the sacred authority of the priesthood and the authority of kings."). Puritains, Cavaliers, Non-Conformists, Scottish Presbyterians, Irish Catholics all came to America to evade the tradition-squelching bulldozer of the modern homogeneous nation-state, in particular the Leviathan state of the British parliament (which drew into itself first religious, then royal power before absorbing the Scottish and Irish parliaments).

America, Adams argues (though not explicitly till after the chapter "Twenty Years After") is the land of those free to abide by their traditions, not of F.J. Turner's frontiersmen, stripped of their tradition by their encounter with the State of Nature, not of Benjamin Franklin's utilitarianism that would have us all be finding happiness as nice, comfortable, productive machines (traditions? holidays? Holy Days? Ritual? what useless bosh!). It is a deliberately UNprogressive place, he holds, though his younger self whom he sometimes mercilessly parodies in the earlier chapters at times seems to find the Progressive model of history appealing in its claims to bring about "The Perfection of Human Society".

At the risk of sounding a bit self-important, I must say I think some of my earlier posts might be helpful if the idea of liberty for excellence seems extremely alien, so I've been linking to them throughout (plus they help to round out what must necessarily be a skeletal account of things if it is to avoid being far too long for a blog post). It's not a popular idea nowadays, as Henry Adams already discerned all the way back in 1918. If you really want some good stuff on that idea though, I recommend Cicero's De Officiis (how we can understand man's natural rights in terms of his moral obligations), Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, John Paul II's "Veritatis Splendor" (intrinsically evil acts), or Elizabeth Fox-Genovese's account of women's experiences in slavery (Within the Plantation Household: Black and White Women of the Old South).

This is a book that I will almost certainly keep writing about from time to time. However simple its main point may be, it is rather brilliantly complex on a more detailed level, making its point in a hundred different ways, using a thousand different images for what he means. And any of the chapters that relies heavily on a concept that you may not be familiar with (as I was not familiar with the overall meaning of Wagner's oeuvre while reading "Teufelsdröckh") automatically becomes a bit more difficult as it demands that you do a bit more leg work to get at his meaning than you may be accustomed to (unless you're a classics major or something).

17 March, 2010

St. Patrick's Day

Time to savor just a few examples of what Catholic Ireland has given the world over the past 1000 years.

Nell Flaherty's Drake

God Bless England

The Croppy Boy

The Clancy Brothers, Tommy Makem, The Dubliners, The Chieftains, etc.



Potatoes:





Irish Cottage Bread:





Irish Whiskey Cake:







Guinness:







Tons and Tons of Poetry:

Ag so an cogadh do chriochnaigh Éire
s do chuir na milte ag iarri dearca...
Do rith plaig is gorta in aonacht

("This was the war that finished Ireland and put thousands begging, plague and famine ran together")

Caithfidh fir Éireann uile
o haicme go haonduine...
gliec na timcheall no tuitim

("All Irishmen from one person to all people must unite or fall")


Cad a dhéanfaimid feasta gan adhmad,
tá deireadh na gcoillte ar lár;
níl trácht ar Chill Chais ná a teaghlach,
is ní bainfear a cling go bráth;
an áit úd ina gcónaíodh an deighbhean
a fuair gradam is meidhir thar mná,
bhíodh iarlaí ag tarraing thar toinn ann,
is an tAifreann binn á rá.


What shall we do from now on without timber?
The last of the woods is gone.
No more of Kilcash and its household
And its bells will not ring again.
The place where that great lady lived
Who received esteem and love above all others
Earls came from overseas to visit there
And Mass was sweetly read.


Antoine Ó Raifteiri (Last of the wandering bards)

Má fhaighimse sláinte is fada bheidh trácht
Ar an méid a bádh as Eanach Cuain.
'S mo thrua 'márach gach athair 's máthair
Bean is páiste 'tá á sileadh súl!
A Rí na nGrást a cheap neamh is párthas,
Nar bheag an tábhacht dúinn beirt no triúr,
Ach lá chomh breá leis gan gaoth ná báisteach
Lán a bháid acu scuab ar shiúl.
Nár mhór an t-íonadh ós comhair na ndaoine

Á bhfeicáil sínte ar chúl a gcinn,
Screadadh 'gus caoineadh a scanródh daoine,
Gruaig á cíoradh 's an chreach á roinnt.
Bhí buachaillí óg ann tíocht an fhómhair,
Á síneadh chrochar, is a dtabhairt go cill.
'S gurb é gléas a bpósta a bhí dá dtoramh
'S a Rí na Glóire nár mhór an feall.


If my health is spared I'll be long relating
Of that boat that sailed out of Anach Cuain.
And the keening after of mother and father
And child by the harbour, the mournful croon!
King of Graces, who died to save us,
T'were a small affair but for one or two,
But a boat-load bravely in calm day sailing
Without storm or rain to be swept to doom.
What wild despair was on all the faces

To see them there in the light of day,
In every place there was lamentation,
And tearing of hair as the wreck was shared.
And boys there lying when crops were ripening,
From the strength of life they were borne to clay
In their wedding clothes for their wake they robed them
O King of Glory, man's hope is in vain.



The Forge
Seamus Heaney

All I know is a door into the dark.
Outside, old axles and iron hoops rusting;
Inside, the hammered anvil’s short-pitched ring,
The unpredictable fantail of sparks
Or hiss when a new shoe toughens in water.
The anvil must be somewhere in the centre,
Horned as a unicorn, at one end square,
Set there immoveable: an altar
Where he expends himself in shape and music.
Sometimes, leather-aproned, hairs in his nose,
He leans out on the jamb, recalls a clatter
Of hoofs where traffic is flashing in rows;
Then grunts and goes in, with a slam and a flick
To beat real iron out, to work the bellows.





The Book of Kells:








Daniel O'Connell:



"The altar of liberty totters when it is cemented only with blood"

"Gentlemen, you may soon have the alternative to live as slaves or die as free men"

"... the domination of England is the sole and blighting curse of this country. It is the incubus that sits on our energies, stops the pulsation of the nation’s heart and leaves to Ireland not gay vitality but horrid the convulsions of a troubled dream."

"Good God, what a brute man becomes when ignorant and oppressed. Oh Liberty! What horrors are committed in thy name! May every virtuous revolutionist remember the horrors of Wexford!"





Castles (defense against Normans and English) and Cottages :







St. Brigid of Ireland:




I'd like to give a lake of beer to God.
I'd love the Heavenly
Host to be tippling there
For all eternity.

I'd love the men of Heaven to live with me,
To dance and sing.
If they wanted, I'd put at their disposal
Vats of suffering.

White cups of love I''d give them,
With a heart and a half;
Sweet pitchers of mercy I'd offer
To every man.

I'd make Heaven a cheerful spot,
Because the happy heart is true.
I'd make the men contented for their own sake
I'd like Jesus to love me too.

I'd like the people of heaven to gather
From all the parishes around,
I'd give a special welcome to the women,
The three Marys of great renown.

I'd sit with the men, the women of God
There by the lake of beer
We'd be drinking good health forever
And every drop would be a prayer.


"Known as "the Mary of the Gael," Brigid founded the monastery of Kildare and was known for spirituality, charity, and compassion. St. Brigid also was a generous, beer-loving woman. She worked in a leper colony which found itself without beer, "For when the lepers she nursed implored her for beer, and there was none to be had, she changed the water, which was used for the bath, into an excellent beer, by the sheer strength of her blessing and dealt it out to the thirsty in plenty." Brigid is said to have changed her dirty bathwater into beer so that visiting clerics would have something to drink. Obviously this trait would endear her to many a beer lover. She also is reputed to have supplied beer out of one barrel to eighteen churches, which sufficed from Maundy Thursday to the end of paschal time. A poem attributed to Brigid in the Brussel's library begins with the lines "I should like a great lake of ale, for the King of the Kings. I should like the family of Heaven to be drinking it through time eternal."




St. Patrick himself:



I bind to myself today
The strong virtue of the Invocation of the Trinity:
I believe the Trinity in the Unity
The Creator of the Universe.

I bind to myself today
The virtue of the Incarnation of Christ with His Baptism,
The virtue of His crucifixion with His burial,
The virtue of His Resurrection with His Ascension,
The virtue of His coming on the Judgement Day.

I bind to myself today
The virtue of the love of seraphim,
In the obedience of angels,
In the hope of resurrection unto reward,
In prayers of Patriarchs,
In predictions of Prophets,
In preaching of Apostles,
In faith of Confessors,
In purity of holy Virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.

I bind to myself today
The power of Heaven,
The light of the sun,
The brightness of the moon,
The splendour of fire,
The flashing of lightning,
The swiftness of wind,
The depth of sea,
The stability of earth,
The compactness of rocks.

I bind to myself today
God's Power to guide me,
God's Might to uphold me,
God's Wisdom to teach me,
God's Eye to watch over me,
God's Ear to hear me,
God's Word to give me speech,
God's Hand to guide me,
God's Way to lie before me,
God's Shield to shelter me,
God's Host to secure me,
Against the snares of demons,
Against the seductions of vices,
Against the lusts of nature,
Against everyone who meditates injury to me,
Whether far or near,
Whether few or with many.

I invoke today all these virtues
Against every hostile merciless power
Which may assail my body and my soul,
Against the incantations of false prophets,
Against the black laws of heathenism,
Against the false laws of heresy,
Against the deceits of idolatry,
Against the spells of women, and smiths, and druids,
Against every knowledge that binds the soul of man.

Christ, protect me today
Against every poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against death-wound,
That I may receive abundant reward.

Christ with me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me, Christ within me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ at my right, Christ at my left,
Christ in the fort,
Christ in the chariot seat,
Christ in the deck,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks to me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I bind to myself today
The strong virtue of an invocation of the Trinity,
I believe the Trinity in the Unity
The Creator of the Universe.