Inconsequential



As Annie Dillard says, isn't it amazing, terrifying "that God, for reasons unfathomable, refrains from blowing our dancing bear act to smithereens"

I found this post-it note from yesterday, on the topic of Kierkegaard, etc:

the comfort of religion seems essentially wrong if it is the result of such a momentous, transformative, complex experience. It seems more likely that one would have to continue in torment, in a constant reaffirmation, confronting the paradox and dangling from some precipice evermore.

[Whenever I come to the end of a page or the last bit of blank space I get a little desperate in my images -- as if I were trying to cram a comment on the ending of things into words which may not admit such admixture]

I feel strongly that while religion attempts to make a space in a hostile world for the believer, it succeeds far more often in diluting the contradictions and rendering something powerful and symbolic and momentous into a saccharine and alien arrangement of cliches.

-- And I meant to say more, but I'm exhausted and off to bed to wake up and try again to sit at my dull desk and continue to think of something more than the pages of paper I fold and staple and compile. Only three months -- three more months of dull desks and fluorescent lights and people who ask me what I'm reading and then look at me as if I've grown a second head when I tell them I do this for myself. Yes, I read strange titles and foreign authors and I read them for myself.

Inconsequential



As Annie Dillard says, isn't it amazing, terrifying "that God, for reasons unfathomable, refrains from blowing our dancing bear act to smithereens"

I found this post-it note from yesterday, on the topic of Kierkegaard, etc:

the comfort of religion seems essentially wrong if it is the result of such a momentous, transformative, complex experience. It seems more likely that one would have to continue in torment, in a constant reaffirmation, confronting the paradox and dangling from some precipice evermore.

[Whenever I come to the end of a page or the last bit of blank space I get a little desperate in my images -- as if I were trying to cram a comment on the ending of things into words which may not admit such admixture]

I feel strongly that while religion attempts to make a space in a hostile world for the believer, it succeeds far more often in diluting the contradictions and rendering something powerful and symbolic and momentous into a saccharine and alien arrangement of cliches.

-- And I meant to say more, but I'm exhausted and off to bed to wake up and try again to sit at my dull desk and continue to think of something more than the pages of paper I fold and staple and compile. Only three months -- three more months of dull desks and fluorescent lights and people who ask me what I'm reading and then look at me as if I've grown a second head when I tell them I do this for myself. Yes, I read strange titles and foreign authors and I read them for myself.

Momentous Deities: Part 2

[album art by Amelia Bauer - via wrongdistance]

I wrote previously that I expected my readings for class (Augustine and Kierkegaard) would align or at least intersect in an interesting way with what I have been reading in Cassirer's Myth and Language. I wanted to pick up where I had previously left off although neither Kierkegaard nor Cassirer have been read entirely.

Cassirer's idea of the momentous deity should perhaps be described. In speaking of the evolution fo religious ideas he describes (from various anthropological examples) how the primary or original deities are always 'momentary deities.'

Something purely instantaneous, a fleeting, emerging and vanishing mental content, whose objectification and outward discharge produces the image of the 'momentary deity.

We feel a surge or locus of power in a single moment, a single experience, and attribute it to some other, outside force.

Just let spontaneous feeling invest the object before him, or his own personal condition, or some display of power that suprises him, with an air of holiness, and that moment has been created. In stark uniqueness and singleness it confronts us; not as a part of some force which may manifest itself here, there, everywhere, in various places and times, and for different persons, but as something that exists only here and now, in one indivisible moment of experience, and for only one subject whom it overwhelms and holds in thrall.

There's a bridge of some sort, an unexpected unity, and in its element of surprise and even disparity it becomes momentous -- unforgettable -- holy -- important. The person experiencing this moment is struck, mesmerized as it were, not numbed like the torpedo-fish of the Meno, but terrified and yet intrigued. These moments become deities, they acquire names, powers, importance, all because the human mind needs to try and understand what it has experienced. It needs to fit the power into some context which makes sense of it. We grapple with the unknown simply because it is unknown.

And that's Kierkegaard speaking through me -- but there is so much in what he unveils that I cannot help but shake my head vigorously in assent. It's true that we clamor at the limits of reason -- pushing, prodding, growing frustrated and lamenting loudly at the presence of the paradox, that which does not and cannot make sense to us. We are ourselves 'disconsolate chimeras'. The moment in time -- I've spoken of this before -- perhaps the model is the Euclidian point (or perhaps not) -- it is that which is in itself essential but which has no part -- it is an arc, a bridge, a leap -- it is the eternal housed in the temporal, it is the fullness of time.

I know this, perhaps in a lesser degree, but how would one even compare degrees of this sort of experience when the mere attempt to find it again in memory, in its immediacy is like clutching at tatters and remnants. Kierkegaard's moment, of course, has the 'decisive significance' that means it could not be forgotten -- his moment is transformative and not mere recollection. And I wonder if Cassirer's moments too are transformative. He speaks of them as having the power to so affect the experient that he creates a god -- he houses a god in the moment of overwhelming experience.

He says that these events are an extreme of 'the sensible present,' reality overflows, bursts its banks, and spills into the realm of myth and deification.

in this moment the entire self is given up to a single impression, is 'possessed' by it and, on the other hand, there is an utmost tension between the subject and its object, the outer world; when external reality is not merely viewed and contemplated, but oversomes a man in sheer immediacy, with emotions of fear and hope, terror or wish fulfillment: then the spark jumps somehow across, the tension finds release, as the subjective excitement becomes objectified, and confronts the mind as a god or a daemon.

And isn't that just what Kierkegaard says? Isn't that his description of the mind confronted by the unknown, by the other, by the absolutely different of which it can have no idea whatsoever ? Doesn't Kierkegaard speak of the leap that the mind necessarily makes in order to prove the existence of the god? Doesn't he say that the understanding, when confronted with the locus of power, the other, the deity, or whatever we shall call it -- doesn't the understanding recoil, fall into torment, try desperately to negate itself in order to understand that which it is not?

But Cassirer isn't interesting in resting in the paradox -- he wants to see how this experience has given rise to the objective, verbal, structured language. How is it possible that from such a walled-off, unanalyzable, dynamic experience we create something like language? Or, how does the deity we create in order to understand the immensity of power housed in a moment of experience, how does that deity establish itself as something rigorous and individual -- how does it acquire its name. For in naming we find the root of language -- and the name is not something entirely created, rather, the god seems to confront man with such power and necessity that it acquires its own objective reality. The pivot on the way from myth to language seems to be this:

the inner excitement which was a mere subjective state has vanished, and has been resolved into the objective form of myth or of speech.

I don't really understand what he's saying here -- I don't quite follow his elaboration of this transition, this development, but I do see so much Kierkegaard in this last passage that I can't but wonder at the indebtedness -- or rather at my own actively associating mind. Here it is:

All other things are lost to a mind thus enthralled; all bridges between the concrete datum and the systematized totality of experience are broken; only the present reality, as mythic or linguistic conception senses and shapes it, fills the entire subjective realm so this one content of experience must reign practically over the whole experiential world. There is nothing beside or beyond it whereby it could be measured or to which it could be compared; its mere presence is the sum of all Being. At this point, the word which denotes that thought content is not a mere conventional symbol, but is merged with its object in an indissoluble unity. The conscious experience is not merely wedded to the word, but is consumed by it. Whatever has been fixed by a name, henceforth is not only real, but is Reality. The potential between 'symbol' and 'meaning' is resolved; in a place of more or less adequate 'expression,' we find a relation of identity, of complete congruence between 'image' and 'object,' between the name and the thing.

Of course.

'In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.'

Don't we always just come back to trying to understand that?

Momentous Deities: Part 2

[album art by Amelia Bauer - via wrongdistance]

I wrote previously that I expected my readings for class (Augustine and Kierkegaard) would align or at least intersect in an interesting way with what I have been reading in Cassirer's Myth and Language. I wanted to pick up where I had previously left off although neither Kierkegaard nor Cassirer have been read entirely.

Cassirer's idea of the momentous deity should perhaps be described. In speaking of the evolution fo religious ideas he describes (from various anthropological examples) how the primary or original deities are always 'momentary deities.'

Something purely instantaneous, a fleeting, emerging and vanishing mental content, whose objectification and outward discharge produces the image of the 'momentary deity.

We feel a surge or locus of power in a single moment, a single experience, and attribute it to some other, outside force.

Just let spontaneous feeling invest the object before him, or his own personal condition, or some display of power that suprises him, with an air of holiness, and that moment has been created. In stark uniqueness and singleness it confronts us; not as a part of some force which may manifest itself here, there, everywhere, in various places and times, and for different persons, but as something that exists only here and now, in one indivisible moment of experience, and for only one subject whom it overwhelms and holds in thrall.

There's a bridge of some sort, an unexpected unity, and in its element of surprise and even disparity it becomes momentous -- unforgettable -- holy -- important. The person experiencing this moment is struck, mesmerized as it were, not numbed like the torpedo-fish of the Meno, but terrified and yet intrigued. These moments become deities, they acquire names, powers, importance, all because the human mind needs to try and understand what it has experienced. It needs to fit the power into some context which makes sense of it. We grapple with the unknown simply because it is unknown.

And that's Kierkegaard speaking through me -- but there is so much in what he unveils that I cannot help but shake my head vigorously in assent. It's true that we clamor at the limits of reason -- pushing, prodding, growing frustrated and lamenting loudly at the presence of the paradox, that which does not and cannot make sense to us. We are ourselves 'disconsolate chimeras'. The moment in time -- I've spoken of this before -- perhaps the model is the Euclidian point (or perhaps not) -- it is that which is in itself essential but which has no part -- it is an arc, a bridge, a leap -- it is the eternal housed in the temporal, it is the fullness of time.

I know this, perhaps in a lesser degree, but how would one even compare degrees of this sort of experience when the mere attempt to find it again in memory, in its immediacy is like clutching at tatters and remnants. Kierkegaard's moment, of course, has the 'decisive significance' that means it could not be forgotten -- his moment is transformative and not mere recollection. And I wonder if Cassirer's moments too are transformative. He speaks of them as having the power to so affect the experient that he creates a god -- he houses a god in the moment of overwhelming experience.

He says that these events are an extreme of 'the sensible present,' reality overflows, bursts its banks, and spills into the realm of myth and deification.

in this moment the entire self is given up to a single impression, is 'possessed' by it and, on the other hand, there is an utmost tension between the subject and its object, the outer world; when external reality is not merely viewed and contemplated, but oversomes a man in sheer immediacy, with emotions of fear and hope, terror or wish fulfillment: then the spark jumps somehow across, the tension finds release, as the subjective excitement becomes objectified, and confronts the mind as a god or a daemon.

And isn't that just what Kierkegaard says? Isn't that his description of the mind confronted by the unknown, by the other, by the absolutely different of which it can have no idea whatsoever ? Doesn't Kierkegaard speak of the leap that the mind necessarily makes in order to prove the existence of the god? Doesn't he say that the understanding, when confronted with the locus of power, the other, the deity, or whatever we shall call it -- doesn't the understanding recoil, fall into torment, try desperately to negate itself in order to understand that which it is not?

But Cassirer isn't interesting in resting in the paradox -- he wants to see how this experience has given rise to the objective, verbal, structured language. How is it possible that from such a walled-off, unanalyzable, dynamic experience we create something like language? Or, how does the deity we create in order to understand the immensity of power housed in a moment of experience, how does that deity establish itself as something rigorous and individual -- how does it acquire its name. For in naming we find the root of language -- and the name is not something entirely created, rather, the god seems to confront man with such power and necessity that it acquires its own objective reality. The pivot on the way from myth to language seems to be this:

the inner excitement which was a mere subjective state has vanished, and has been resolved into the objective form of myth or of speech.

I don't really understand what he's saying here -- I don't quite follow his elaboration of this transition, this development, but I do see so much Kierkegaard in this last passage that I can't but wonder at the indebtedness -- or rather at my own actively associating mind. Here it is:

All other things are lost to a mind thus enthralled; all bridges between the concrete datum and the systematized totality of experience are broken; only the present reality, as mythic or linguistic conception senses and shapes it, fills the entire subjective realm so this one content of experience must reign practically over the whole experiential world. There is nothing beside or beyond it whereby it could be measured or to which it could be compared; its mere presence is the sum of all Being. At this point, the word which denotes that thought content is not a mere conventional symbol, but is merged with its object in an indissoluble unity. The conscious experience is not merely wedded to the word, but is consumed by it. Whatever has been fixed by a name, henceforth is not only real, but is Reality. The potential between 'symbol' and 'meaning' is resolved; in a place of more or less adequate 'expression,' we find a relation of identity, of complete congruence between 'image' and 'object,' between the name and the thing.

Of course.

'In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.'

Don't we always just come back to trying to understand that?

Momentous Deities: Part 1

[Vermeer]

[original post on 4/17, reposted for solidarity]

I've been reading Ernst Cassirer's Myth and Language recently and I've been taken with his description of 'momentous deities.' I've also been reading Augustine's Confessions for my class and we have Kierkegaard's Philosophical Fragments scheduled for our final two classes. For both of these authors the moment is a pivotal, integral, essential phenomenon.

Augustine's pivotal moment occurs during the scene in the garden where he, for the first time, gives up his own futile attempts to achieve salvation and turns to God, supplicant and chastened. In reading this scene I see humility, sacrifice -- a 'letting go' of the self, of reason's endlessly circuitous activity, and of Augustine's own desire to control his salvation. He wants to find God, to figure out the mysteries of creation, and to cure himself of the 'warring' tendencies he sees in his own soul. And yet he realizes that he cannot give himself chastity, that he cannot reach to God but can only prepare himself and wait for God to recognize his readiness.

But the moment itself, that is always incomprehensible to me -- I can understand it in certain senses, I can see how the child's voice signifies innocence, how the passage from Romans signifies chastity and temperance, and how Augustine, through a unique intersection of phenomena, was finally ready for salvation.

But at the same time, I have to wonder why it was this particular intersection of phenomena -- why this moment -- why does that specific passage from Romans, which must have been well-known to Augustine, why does it now affect him so strongly as to make him repent and turn completely to God?

What's amazing to me is that Augustine does not examine the whys and wherefores of this moment. The man who gives us an elaborately reasoned account of Genesis and the meaning of time, who examines his childhood theft from the pear trees, who probes the problem of evil on earth and refutes the popular and established beliefs of the Manicheans, who unceasingly examines every philosopher that he comes across -- demanding truths, explanations, reasons -- this man does not once stop to ask when the significance of the moment in the garden is. He accepts it, wholly, gratefully, penitently.

Later, in his description of one of his final conversations with his mother, Augustine seems to return again to the momentary and momentous communion with the divine:

And while we spoke of the eternal Wisdom, longing for it and straining for it with all the strength of our hearts, for one fleeting instant we reached out and touched it. Then with a sigh, leaving our spiritual harvest bound to it, we returned to the sound of our own speech, in which each word has a beginning and an ending -- far, far different from your Word, our Lord ...

Suppose, we said ... that he alone should speak to us, not through them [our flesh, mind and spirit] but in his own voice, so that we should hear him speaking, not through any tongue of flesh or by an angel's voice, not in the sound of thunder or in some veiled parable, but in his own
voice, the voice of the one whom we love in all these created things; suppose that we heard him himself, with none of these things between ourselves and him, just as in that brief moment my mother and I had reached out in thought and touched the eternal Wisdom which abides over all things; suppose that this state were to be removed, so that this single vision entranced and absorbed the one who beheld it and enveloped him in inward joys in such a way that for him life was eternally the same as that instant of understanding for which we had longed so much.

This brief touch -- a brush with the divine -- a moment of illumination and communion -- in this moment, time seems to be abrogated -- consciousness arcs above its normal subject matter and into a realm where any awareness seems to be simultaneously whole and null -- Augustine seems to know some phenomenon intensely, totally, and transcendentally -- and in the same instant his knowledge seems to be annihilated.

Just trying to find the words with which to understand this phenomenon seems to me to be incredibly difficult.

Momentous Deities: Part 1

[Vermeer]

[original post on 4/17, reposted for solidarity]

I've been reading Ernst Cassirer's Myth and Language recently and I've been taken with his description of 'momentous deities.' I've also been reading Augustine's Confessions for my class and we have Kierkegaard's Philosophical Fragments scheduled for our final two classes. For both of these authors the moment is a pivotal, integral, essential phenomenon.

Augustine's pivotal moment occurs during the scene in the garden where he, for the first time, gives up his own futile attempts to achieve salvation and turns to God, supplicant and chastened. In reading this scene I see humility, sacrifice -- a 'letting go' of the self, of reason's endlessly circuitous activity, and of Augustine's own desire to control his salvation. He wants to find God, to figure out the mysteries of creation, and to cure himself of the 'warring' tendencies he sees in his own soul. And yet he realizes that he cannot give himself chastity, that he cannot reach to God but can only prepare himself and wait for God to recognize his readiness.

But the moment itself, that is always incomprehensible to me -- I can understand it in certain senses, I can see how the child's voice signifies innocence, how the passage from Romans signifies chastity and temperance, and how Augustine, through a unique intersection of phenomena, was finally ready for salvation.

But at the same time, I have to wonder why it was this particular intersection of phenomena -- why this moment -- why does that specific passage from Romans, which must have been well-known to Augustine, why does it now affect him so strongly as to make him repent and turn completely to God?

What's amazing to me is that Augustine does not examine the whys and wherefores of this moment. The man who gives us an elaborately reasoned account of Genesis and the meaning of time, who examines his childhood theft from the pear trees, who probes the problem of evil on earth and refutes the popular and established beliefs of the Manicheans, who unceasingly examines every philosopher that he comes across -- demanding truths, explanations, reasons -- this man does not once stop to ask when the significance of the moment in the garden is. He accepts it, wholly, gratefully, penitently.

Later, in his description of one of his final conversations with his mother, Augustine seems to return again to the momentary and momentous communion with the divine:

And while we spoke of the eternal Wisdom, longing for it and straining for it with all the strength of our hearts, for one fleeting instant we reached out and touched it. Then with a sigh, leaving our spiritual harvest bound to it, we returned to the sound of our own speech, in which each word has a beginning and an ending -- far, far different from your Word, our Lord ...

Suppose, we said ... that he alone should speak to us, not through them [our flesh, mind and spirit] but in his own voice, so that we should hear him speaking, not through any tongue of flesh or by an angel's voice, not in the sound of thunder or in some veiled parable, but in his own
voice, the voice of the one whom we love in all these created things; suppose that we heard him himself, with none of these things between ourselves and him, just as in that brief moment my mother and I had reached out in thought and touched the eternal Wisdom which abides over all things; suppose that this state were to be removed, so that this single vision entranced and absorbed the one who beheld it and enveloped him in inward joys in such a way that for him life was eternally the same as that instant of understanding for which we had longed so much.

This brief touch -- a brush with the divine -- a moment of illumination and communion -- in this moment, time seems to be abrogated -- consciousness arcs above its normal subject matter and into a realm where any awareness seems to be simultaneously whole and null -- Augustine seems to know some phenomenon intensely, totally, and transcendentally -- and in the same instant his knowledge seems to be annihilated.

Just trying to find the words with which to understand this phenomenon seems to me to be incredibly difficult.

Endovelada


I have a new project of sorts -- it's still very much undeveloped, and a little confused. Mostly I felt that there were certain topics which I felt I needed to think about but which involved an element of the personal that I didn't want as widely broadcasted or, to be frank, judged. Not that I feel like this corner of the web is well-trafficked (and obviously by mentioning this project I'm alerting the small group of readers I have to it's existence) but I guess I wanted a bit more anonymity there. Or at least more freedom -- who knows.

The url (and the title of this post) is taken from a Pessoa neologism. It's here.

Endovelada


I have a new project of sorts -- it's still very much undeveloped, and a little confused. Mostly I felt that there were certain topics which I felt I needed to think about but which involved an element of the personal that I didn't want as widely broadcasted or, to be frank, judged. Not that I feel like this corner of the web is well-trafficked (and obviously by mentioning this project I'm alerting the small group of readers I have to it's existence) but I guess I wanted a bit more anonymity there. Or at least more freedom -- who knows.

The url (and the title of this post) is taken from a Pessoa neologism. It's here.

Evening

My brother and I visited my sister last night -- to see her school's production of She Stoops to Conquer. After the show, at a typical college house which belonged to one of the cast members, we listened to records, one of which was St. Vincent's. Beautiful and wonderful and I'm glad my first experience was in vinyl.





Evening

My brother and I visited my sister last night -- to see her school's production of She Stoops to Conquer. After the show, at a typical college house which belonged to one of the cast members, we listened to records, one of which was St. Vincent's. Beautiful and wonderful and I'm glad my first experience was in vinyl.





Gloss/Marginalia: Part 3

[via Gabriele Beveridge]

[See below posts for explanation]

The homage nowadays rendered ‘creativity,’ for example, is nothing but a modern version of the glorification of art for art’s sake, though by ‘creativity’ is meant excretion for the sake of excretion, the more tempting for being conducted outside of truth and falsehood, good and evil, beauty and ugliness – where the doing, in other words, counts for more than what is done.

That cuts right to the quick – and makes me look again at my enthusiasm for ‘the aesthetics of process’ as advocated by Valery and Gilson. What are the implications of a metaphysics of becoming as opposed to being? At first glance it seems to place one squarely among the shades of grey and very far from any sort of certainty.

Which makes me wonder if this is my particular contradiction and struggle, for as much as I yearn for certainty (perhaps naturally), I can only find evidence of problems and inquiries. I wish for being and what I find is becoming. And what does that mean for systems of physics and metaphysics? I’m wondering if there’s a logical contradiction in trying to determine a system of becoming.

Wouldn’t something like this lead to a world where ‘everything is permitted’ ? Or am I missing some necessary intermediate steps?

As Milosz says,

If nothing binds human values to the inviolable laws of the universe, then there is nothing to protect mankind from extreme cataclysms and calamities. Then even the passion for truth, so precious to the man of science, remains inexplicable, ungrounded.

I guess I don’t understand atheism. I don’t see how it works. Maybe I’m missing something that everyone else in this modern century has discovered, but I cannot see it. I don’t understand my theism (or whateveryoucallit), but I cannot think of existence or thinghood or being without positing some eternal, total Being – not the Christian, loving God which seems to me to be more a fabrication or synthesis (which is apparently what Kant says elsewhere), but some Being between what Aristotle describes and what Aquinas proves. I can’t be more clear than that and so I’m sure my hazy idea is full of holes and problems.

I need to re-read The Brothers Karamazov, that much I know.

______________________________________

But man is also anti-Nature, divided, at war with the animal in him, afflicted by not being able to live without the means to assuage his existence, whatever name we give to those means. Deserving of wonder, yes, but also of pity, immense pity, the greater in that man can only be pitied by man.

Many students chose to focus on this issue – war-torn man, his reason at odds with his inclinations – and we would focus on the struggle as described by Paul and Augustine and even Kant (in different terms).

I wondered (aloud at times) if contradiction wasn’t the common denominator in man’s experience – and that the attempt to focus on logical validity and certainty is a reaction to that experience just as ‘relativism’ and shades of grey are.

I’ve read very little of Simon Weil’s writings (only picking up Gravity and Grace after one of the students I worked with recommended it to me – along with Swedenborg), but Milosz mentions her as his representative of dualism – of a religion and Christianity which stands firmly amidst the contradictions and pays no mind to practical implications and ‘compromise.’

He mentions her maxim: ‘La distance infinie que separe le necessaire et le bien’ as the cornerstone of her system.

Milosz’s summary of her ideas:

God, having created the world, withheld dominion over it, letting it take its own course, as untenable as that may be to human reason. He anted a world without good, that is, a world below good and evil. He (the good) distanced himself from the world (necessity) by an infinity. Another version of that indifferent God the Clockmaker of the eighteenth-century Deists? No: Weil’s God is tragic, loving, the dying God on the cross. The words spoken by Christ before his death, ‘Lord, why hast Thou forsaken me,’ were, for her, the most powerful affirmation of Christianity and of humanity, which occupies the lowest of all levels, above the innocence of Nature but bound by her laws, longing for the good ‘not of this world.’ By way of qualifying our blackboard inscription, one would have to add another of Weil’s maxims: ‘Contradiction is the instrument of transcendence.’

That seems to be at least a very clear statement of what I was circling around before – the belief in God is an ultimate sort of contradiction – the contradiction that we are so familiar with in our normal lives.

Milosz finishes his section on Weil with:

If the present book has a dominant theme, it is this ‘morbidity’ intrinsic to man, this balancing of the human weight on the very edge of the scale so that one pinch dropped on the other is enough to tip it. Simone Weil taught me that my hatred for life was not deserving of absolute condemnation, that a longing for putirty may disguise itself as morbidity. And that my love of life, equally strong, is no less real, since we live by way of contradictions. Ultimately, her elucidation of the role of contradictions, even logical contradictions, is one of the most valuable lessons to be gained from reading her works.

What happens to us when we attempt to pare away all contradictions from the experience of man, excising them as deformities, depravities, twisted enemies to Reason? Isn’t that what is so initially discomfiting about Kant’s morality? No contradictions are to be admitted and so it seems so utterly inhuman. He recognizes this of course, but stresses the necessity of this sort of system. I just wonder if there isn’t some better way of marrying temperance and prudence with a recognition of the human struggle with contradiction. Could Aristotle’s Ethics help us here perhaps?

Gloss/Marginalia: Part 3

[via Gabriele Beveridge]

[See below posts for explanation]

The homage nowadays rendered ‘creativity,’ for example, is nothing but a modern version of the glorification of art for art’s sake, though by ‘creativity’ is meant excretion for the sake of excretion, the more tempting for being conducted outside of truth and falsehood, good and evil, beauty and ugliness – where the doing, in other words, counts for more than what is done.

That cuts right to the quick – and makes me look again at my enthusiasm for ‘the aesthetics of process’ as advocated by Valery and Gilson. What are the implications of a metaphysics of becoming as opposed to being? At first glance it seems to place one squarely among the shades of grey and very far from any sort of certainty.

Which makes me wonder if this is my particular contradiction and struggle, for as much as I yearn for certainty (perhaps naturally), I can only find evidence of problems and inquiries. I wish for being and what I find is becoming. And what does that mean for systems of physics and metaphysics? I’m wondering if there’s a logical contradiction in trying to determine a system of becoming.

Wouldn’t something like this lead to a world where ‘everything is permitted’ ? Or am I missing some necessary intermediate steps?

As Milosz says,

If nothing binds human values to the inviolable laws of the universe, then there is nothing to protect mankind from extreme cataclysms and calamities. Then even the passion for truth, so precious to the man of science, remains inexplicable, ungrounded.

I guess I don’t understand atheism. I don’t see how it works. Maybe I’m missing something that everyone else in this modern century has discovered, but I cannot see it. I don’t understand my theism (or whateveryoucallit), but I cannot think of existence or thinghood or being without positing some eternal, total Being – not the Christian, loving God which seems to me to be more a fabrication or synthesis (which is apparently what Kant says elsewhere), but some Being between what Aristotle describes and what Aquinas proves. I can’t be more clear than that and so I’m sure my hazy idea is full of holes and problems.

I need to re-read The Brothers Karamazov, that much I know.

______________________________________

But man is also anti-Nature, divided, at war with the animal in him, afflicted by not being able to live without the means to assuage his existence, whatever name we give to those means. Deserving of wonder, yes, but also of pity, immense pity, the greater in that man can only be pitied by man.

Many students chose to focus on this issue – war-torn man, his reason at odds with his inclinations – and we would focus on the struggle as described by Paul and Augustine and even Kant (in different terms).

I wondered (aloud at times) if contradiction wasn’t the common denominator in man’s experience – and that the attempt to focus on logical validity and certainty is a reaction to that experience just as ‘relativism’ and shades of grey are.

I’ve read very little of Simon Weil’s writings (only picking up Gravity and Grace after one of the students I worked with recommended it to me – along with Swedenborg), but Milosz mentions her as his representative of dualism – of a religion and Christianity which stands firmly amidst the contradictions and pays no mind to practical implications and ‘compromise.’

He mentions her maxim: ‘La distance infinie que separe le necessaire et le bien’ as the cornerstone of her system.

Milosz’s summary of her ideas:

God, having created the world, withheld dominion over it, letting it take its own course, as untenable as that may be to human reason. He anted a world without good, that is, a world below good and evil. He (the good) distanced himself from the world (necessity) by an infinity. Another version of that indifferent God the Clockmaker of the eighteenth-century Deists? No: Weil’s God is tragic, loving, the dying God on the cross. The words spoken by Christ before his death, ‘Lord, why hast Thou forsaken me,’ were, for her, the most powerful affirmation of Christianity and of humanity, which occupies the lowest of all levels, above the innocence of Nature but bound by her laws, longing for the good ‘not of this world.’ By way of qualifying our blackboard inscription, one would have to add another of Weil’s maxims: ‘Contradiction is the instrument of transcendence.’

That seems to be at least a very clear statement of what I was circling around before – the belief in God is an ultimate sort of contradiction – the contradiction that we are so familiar with in our normal lives.

Milosz finishes his section on Weil with:

If the present book has a dominant theme, it is this ‘morbidity’ intrinsic to man, this balancing of the human weight on the very edge of the scale so that one pinch dropped on the other is enough to tip it. Simone Weil taught me that my hatred for life was not deserving of absolute condemnation, that a longing for putirty may disguise itself as morbidity. And that my love of life, equally strong, is no less real, since we live by way of contradictions. Ultimately, her elucidation of the role of contradictions, even logical contradictions, is one of the most valuable lessons to be gained from reading her works.

What happens to us when we attempt to pare away all contradictions from the experience of man, excising them as deformities, depravities, twisted enemies to Reason? Isn’t that what is so initially discomfiting about Kant’s morality? No contradictions are to be admitted and so it seems so utterly inhuman. He recognizes this of course, but stresses the necessity of this sort of system. I just wonder if there isn’t some better way of marrying temperance and prudence with a recognition of the human struggle with contradiction. Could Aristotle’s Ethics help us here perhaps?

Gloss/Marginalia: Part 2

[Jan Fassbender via wrongdistance]

[See below post for an explanation of sorts]

Milosz describes Beckett as being ‘like a man who sidles up to a hunchback and begins to needle him: "Hunchback, you’re a hunchback; you’d rather not be reminded of it, but I shall see to it that you are reminded.”

For generations a quarrel has been waged between the innovators and a conservative public opinion, the former appealing to the right of a total striptease, the latter to decorum. At issue was the whole question of man’s animal needs and drives. Gradually the line of defense retreated and the argument of the defenders of decorum – that there is no point in telling people what they already know – lost its credibility. Yet the game could continue to be played so long as there was something to ‘profane,’ so long as the few existing prohibitions remained in force. Now, when there are no more prohibitions, when sexual license and sadism have become the stuff of mass entertainment, of the less sophisticated genres in general, little is left of those authors in search of brutally shocking effects. In the treatment of man’s metaphysical condition, ‘total striptease’ takes always the same form and is congruent with the gradual reduction of human nature.

Milosz is referring to his inherent dislike of Beckett. He finds him disturbing and attributes this feeling, later on, to an aesthetic disrupt – largely due to what he calls his conservative impulses. I think I feel the same way, and that a lot of my preferences are based on aesthetics as opposed to rigorous affirmation/confirmation or something.
________________________________________

Here we should be reminded that man is above all an organizer of space, both internal and external, and that this fact is what is meant by imagination.

[I need to re-read the Prolegomena]
_______________________________________

I can state it more concisely. When my guardian angel (who resides in an internalized external space) is triumphant, the earth looks precious to me and I live in ecstasy; I am perfectly at ease because I am surrounded by a divine protection, my health is good, I feel within me the rush of a mighty rhythm, my dreams are magically rich landscapes, and I forget about death, because whether it comes in a month or five years it will be done as it was decreed, not by the God of the philosophers but by the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. When the devil triumphs, I am appalled when I look at the trees in bloom as they blindly repeat every spring what has been willed by the law of natural selection; the sea evokes in me a battleground of monstrous,
antediluvian crustaceans, I am oppressed by the randomness and absurdity of my individual experience, and I feel excluded from the world’s rhythm, cast up from it, a piece of detritus and then the terror: my life is over, I won’t get another, only death now.

Black and white; or is it shades of grey? Is salvation something to think of? Something at all? If it is, wouldn’t it have to be our sole concern, our highest concern, for what is the purpose of divertissement when souls and eternal life are on the line? How is it possible that we could spend time so frivolously – indulge our inclinations, desires, whims, etc. Sometimes I think of philosophy as ‘saving’ somehow (the quote from Ms. Brann – ‘face to face to save our souls’ – what does that mean?) and then I worry that I’m down the slippery slope of sentiments and ideals.

And yet contemporary religion has no problem with compromises – instead of concerning itself with salvation of souls, it seems concerned only with the secular improvement of life.

[quoted by Milosz from Gai Eaton’s ‘The Only Heritage We Have’]: They imagine that Christianity might be allowed to survive on a modest scale if it proved to be ‘useful’ to society, that is, to make men better citizens, more decent neighbors, more conscientious taxpayers; and they are ready to abandon everything that smacks of ‘otherworldliness,’ of metaphysics or of ritualism. The more ground they give, the harder they are pressed by their enemies.

'The faithful’ were a group we continued to talk about all semester – what does it mean to have faith? The sort of faith we saw in the Bible (Abraham and Paul), in Augustine, and even in Aquinas, that all seemed so incredibly strange to us. Those who were most faithful seemed to have the greatest struggle – the moments of bliss or peace were not continued or even extended – they were rare and they were brief. At all other times man felt himself in a torment, an internal war between desire and obligation – sensibility and reason. A dualism that seemed inherent in the nature of faith itself. For if faith is a sort of illumination or elevation by way of the gift of God’s grace and peace then we are helpless. Faith requires a sacrifice and a selflessness – it requires the individual to disappear – effacement of the self. (Reading Kant provided another way of thinking about this, for the supremely moral action was one that had no connection whatsoever to the individual – autonomy and freedom from the tyranny of the self).

But there’s something so disturbing about this picture of perfection (or elevation or whatever). We want to assume that the self we inhabit, the desires we try so hard to moderate, that this is something worth fighting for – I don’t want to be subsumed, absorbed, obliterated – but nor do I want to be one of Cortazar’s sclerotic selves. Forever rigid, forever rebelling, never fertile or fruitful.

I tried out a model of heaven and hell in one of the exams yesterday, positing hell as a continuation of the self – eternally individual, eternally torn, eternally at war – and heaven as the annihilation of self – the individual returns to the all, the total, the unified and no longer experiences anything extended, discrete or determined.

I tried out another model, in an exam where we were discussing the relation (as far as it could be found) between Augustine’s Confessions and Kant’s Metaphysics of Morals. I wondered what we could see if we were to say Subjective : Objective :: Body : Spirit. That’s not a difficult model to propose, it seems natural. I’m not too sure where it gets us still, especially because I still have trouble understanding what Augustine’s God is like – he seems to me to be a strange amalgamation of the Aristotelian Prime Mover and the loving, personal, saving Christ.

Gloss/Marginalia: Part 2

[Jan Fassbender via wrongdistance]

[See below post for an explanation of sorts]

Milosz describes Beckett as being ‘like a man who sidles up to a hunchback and begins to needle him: "Hunchback, you’re a hunchback; you’d rather not be reminded of it, but I shall see to it that you are reminded.”

For generations a quarrel has been waged between the innovators and a conservative public opinion, the former appealing to the right of a total striptease, the latter to decorum. At issue was the whole question of man’s animal needs and drives. Gradually the line of defense retreated and the argument of the defenders of decorum – that there is no point in telling people what they already know – lost its credibility. Yet the game could continue to be played so long as there was something to ‘profane,’ so long as the few existing prohibitions remained in force. Now, when there are no more prohibitions, when sexual license and sadism have become the stuff of mass entertainment, of the less sophisticated genres in general, little is left of those authors in search of brutally shocking effects. In the treatment of man’s metaphysical condition, ‘total striptease’ takes always the same form and is congruent with the gradual reduction of human nature.

Milosz is referring to his inherent dislike of Beckett. He finds him disturbing and attributes this feeling, later on, to an aesthetic disrupt – largely due to what he calls his conservative impulses. I think I feel the same way, and that a lot of my preferences are based on aesthetics as opposed to rigorous affirmation/confirmation or something.
________________________________________

Here we should be reminded that man is above all an organizer of space, both internal and external, and that this fact is what is meant by imagination.

[I need to re-read the Prolegomena]
_______________________________________

I can state it more concisely. When my guardian angel (who resides in an internalized external space) is triumphant, the earth looks precious to me and I live in ecstasy; I am perfectly at ease because I am surrounded by a divine protection, my health is good, I feel within me the rush of a mighty rhythm, my dreams are magically rich landscapes, and I forget about death, because whether it comes in a month or five years it will be done as it was decreed, not by the God of the philosophers but by the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. When the devil triumphs, I am appalled when I look at the trees in bloom as they blindly repeat every spring what has been willed by the law of natural selection; the sea evokes in me a battleground of monstrous,
antediluvian crustaceans, I am oppressed by the randomness and absurdity of my individual experience, and I feel excluded from the world’s rhythm, cast up from it, a piece of detritus and then the terror: my life is over, I won’t get another, only death now.

Black and white; or is it shades of grey? Is salvation something to think of? Something at all? If it is, wouldn’t it have to be our sole concern, our highest concern, for what is the purpose of divertissement when souls and eternal life are on the line? How is it possible that we could spend time so frivolously – indulge our inclinations, desires, whims, etc. Sometimes I think of philosophy as ‘saving’ somehow (the quote from Ms. Brann – ‘face to face to save our souls’ – what does that mean?) and then I worry that I’m down the slippery slope of sentiments and ideals.

And yet contemporary religion has no problem with compromises – instead of concerning itself with salvation of souls, it seems concerned only with the secular improvement of life.

[quoted by Milosz from Gai Eaton’s ‘The Only Heritage We Have’]: They imagine that Christianity might be allowed to survive on a modest scale if it proved to be ‘useful’ to society, that is, to make men better citizens, more decent neighbors, more conscientious taxpayers; and they are ready to abandon everything that smacks of ‘otherworldliness,’ of metaphysics or of ritualism. The more ground they give, the harder they are pressed by their enemies.

'The faithful’ were a group we continued to talk about all semester – what does it mean to have faith? The sort of faith we saw in the Bible (Abraham and Paul), in Augustine, and even in Aquinas, that all seemed so incredibly strange to us. Those who were most faithful seemed to have the greatest struggle – the moments of bliss or peace were not continued or even extended – they were rare and they were brief. At all other times man felt himself in a torment, an internal war between desire and obligation – sensibility and reason. A dualism that seemed inherent in the nature of faith itself. For if faith is a sort of illumination or elevation by way of the gift of God’s grace and peace then we are helpless. Faith requires a sacrifice and a selflessness – it requires the individual to disappear – effacement of the self. (Reading Kant provided another way of thinking about this, for the supremely moral action was one that had no connection whatsoever to the individual – autonomy and freedom from the tyranny of the self).

But there’s something so disturbing about this picture of perfection (or elevation or whatever). We want to assume that the self we inhabit, the desires we try so hard to moderate, that this is something worth fighting for – I don’t want to be subsumed, absorbed, obliterated – but nor do I want to be one of Cortazar’s sclerotic selves. Forever rigid, forever rebelling, never fertile or fruitful.

I tried out a model of heaven and hell in one of the exams yesterday, positing hell as a continuation of the self – eternally individual, eternally torn, eternally at war – and heaven as the annihilation of self – the individual returns to the all, the total, the unified and no longer experiences anything extended, discrete or determined.

I tried out another model, in an exam where we were discussing the relation (as far as it could be found) between Augustine’s Confessions and Kant’s Metaphysics of Morals. I wondered what we could see if we were to say Subjective : Objective :: Body : Spirit. That’s not a difficult model to propose, it seems natural. I’m not too sure where it gets us still, especially because I still have trouble understanding what Augustine’s God is like – he seems to me to be a strange amalgamation of the Aristotelian Prime Mover and the loving, personal, saving Christ.

Gloss/Marginalia: Part 1

[Jan Fassbender via wrongdistance]

[I’ve been reading Milosz’s Land of Ulro on and off for some time now. Mostly I’ve felt perplexed by it. However, there was a resolution of sorts today – in conjunction with the interesting questions we’ve been pursuing with students lately. Since my reading of the last 30 or so pages of Ulro is thickly layered with my thoughts on Beckett (cursory), Dostoevsky, theology, dualism, and the salvation of man (quite a grave group), I thought it may be helpful (to me) to systematically go through Milosz’s words and present my thoughts as they occurred to me at the time of reading. All of the writing contained here and in the two posts which will follow (parts 1 - 3) were written in an hour and fueled by an awful lot of caffeine -- they probably require a lot of revision, but I hope something comes out of all this at the end … ]

To start, this all begins at the last section of Milosz’s writing, where, as he says, he attempts to provide the design of his mosaic of thoughts and allusions.

He says:

Beckett, like his literary contemporaries in the West, has proclaimed urbi et orbi what in the nineteenth century was known only to a handful, and which was the message of Nietzsche’s invective directed against the Europeans: So you killed God and think you can get away with it? Now, on a mass scale, was born the realization of man’s new metaphysical condition, summarized by a single word: NO. No voice reaching down from the cosmos, no good and evil, no fulfillment of the promise, no Kingdom. But that was not all. The individual, proudly pointing to himself as “I,” proved just as much an illusion, a bundle of reflexes covered by a uniform epidermis. Love was an illusion, friendship an illusion – because both were premised on the possibility of communication, and how to communicate when language is reduced to a babble bespeaking the solitariness of each? So what is left in the presence of this huge NO? Only time, absolute time, rushing nowhere out of nowhere; time measured by the gradual deterioration of organic cells.

I wondered, initially, if we haven’t in response to this condemnatory NO, reverted to a fuzzy ‘YES’ – the ‘everything is permitted’ that Dostoevsky warns us about. I keep coming across the contemporary problem of too much, too fast, too ubiquitous. It’s a strange dualism – the more one narrows one’s scope, the more fringe or interstitial space one creates. Or perhaps it’s a dualism between constraint and freedom (thinking here of Kant’s morality). So much is becoming grossly individual – simultaneous with ballooning of the community of individuals. And yet we aren’t communicating any better, we aren’t ourselves being clear or precise or even interesting. For the most part, with the increase of voices comes in increase of nonsensical cacophony.

If humanity can only ever hope to assent to its own existence, to humanity as humanity, then what are we striving for? We fill our minds, mouths, and hands with heteronymy – striving for truth or precision or maybe just diversion.

________________________________________________________

Milosz uses the French divertissement to describe this – we fritter away our time on secular matters, matters of pleasure or opinion or the extension/alleviation of boredom. We bore ourselves indefinitely – with our arguments, or futile discoveries, with our experiences and our flimsy attempts at explanation and elucidation.

He says:

From the preceding discussion, one thing is evident: the burden of disinheritance is a painful one. Secular humanism has become so consumed by its own vacancy that it must prostrate itself before the bearers of revolutionary slogans.


I was thinking back to some of the conversations I’ve had recently. (A little context: the ‘final’ for the class I’m teaching is an ‘oral exam’ which is essentially a three-person conversation on a question or issue of the student’s choice. We had 18 of these conversations this semester and some of them produced some very important and provocative lines of thought). On many occasions, the student would preface the conversation with ‘I was raised in a [insert monotheistic religion] household and never really thought about this before.’ Some of these conversations would then lead to a statement like, ‘How can someone say that they believe such contradictory, irrational, non-sensical things?’

And we would work out Augustine’s treatment of reason and faith, Aquinas’ thoughts on how reason can do the majority of the work and Kant’s elevation of reason to the point where it seems to have ascended somehow to a realm of sacred mystery. But the question would remain – what are these theologians/philosophers talking about? What is the moment where one’s soul somehow reaches a communion with the divine (Augustine in the garden, the transformation of the Apostles, etc)? How are we to understand the glaring contradictions in the Old Testament and between the Old and New Testaments? How are we to make the leap from a rational understanding of a necessary Being or a necessary First Mover to a Christian God commanding love and/or fear and obedience? How can we talk about faith and reason together (as Aquinas does) when faith seems to be necessarily contradictory and reason necessarily flawed?

Gloss/Marginalia: Part 1

[Jan Fassbender via wrongdistance]

[I’ve been reading Milosz’s Land of Ulro on and off for some time now. Mostly I’ve felt perplexed by it. However, there was a resolution of sorts today – in conjunction with the interesting questions we’ve been pursuing with students lately. Since my reading of the last 30 or so pages of Ulro is thickly layered with my thoughts on Beckett (cursory), Dostoevsky, theology, dualism, and the salvation of man (quite a grave group), I thought it may be helpful (to me) to systematically go through Milosz’s words and present my thoughts as they occurred to me at the time of reading. All of the writing contained here and in the two posts which will follow (parts 1 - 3) were written in an hour and fueled by an awful lot of caffeine -- they probably require a lot of revision, but I hope something comes out of all this at the end … ]

To start, this all begins at the last section of Milosz’s writing, where, as he says, he attempts to provide the design of his mosaic of thoughts and allusions.

He says:

Beckett, like his literary contemporaries in the West, has proclaimed urbi et orbi what in the nineteenth century was known only to a handful, and which was the message of Nietzsche’s invective directed against the Europeans: So you killed God and think you can get away with it? Now, on a mass scale, was born the realization of man’s new metaphysical condition, summarized by a single word: NO. No voice reaching down from the cosmos, no good and evil, no fulfillment of the promise, no Kingdom. But that was not all. The individual, proudly pointing to himself as “I,” proved just as much an illusion, a bundle of reflexes covered by a uniform epidermis. Love was an illusion, friendship an illusion – because both were premised on the possibility of communication, and how to communicate when language is reduced to a babble bespeaking the solitariness of each? So what is left in the presence of this huge NO? Only time, absolute time, rushing nowhere out of nowhere; time measured by the gradual deterioration of organic cells.

I wondered, initially, if we haven’t in response to this condemnatory NO, reverted to a fuzzy ‘YES’ – the ‘everything is permitted’ that Dostoevsky warns us about. I keep coming across the contemporary problem of too much, too fast, too ubiquitous. It’s a strange dualism – the more one narrows one’s scope, the more fringe or interstitial space one creates. Or perhaps it’s a dualism between constraint and freedom (thinking here of Kant’s morality). So much is becoming grossly individual – simultaneous with ballooning of the community of individuals. And yet we aren’t communicating any better, we aren’t ourselves being clear or precise or even interesting. For the most part, with the increase of voices comes in increase of nonsensical cacophony.

If humanity can only ever hope to assent to its own existence, to humanity as humanity, then what are we striving for? We fill our minds, mouths, and hands with heteronymy – striving for truth or precision or maybe just diversion.

________________________________________________________

Milosz uses the French divertissement to describe this – we fritter away our time on secular matters, matters of pleasure or opinion or the extension/alleviation of boredom. We bore ourselves indefinitely – with our arguments, or futile discoveries, with our experiences and our flimsy attempts at explanation and elucidation.

He says:

From the preceding discussion, one thing is evident: the burden of disinheritance is a painful one. Secular humanism has become so consumed by its own vacancy that it must prostrate itself before the bearers of revolutionary slogans.


I was thinking back to some of the conversations I’ve had recently. (A little context: the ‘final’ for the class I’m teaching is an ‘oral exam’ which is essentially a three-person conversation on a question or issue of the student’s choice. We had 18 of these conversations this semester and some of them produced some very important and provocative lines of thought). On many occasions, the student would preface the conversation with ‘I was raised in a [insert monotheistic religion] household and never really thought about this before.’ Some of these conversations would then lead to a statement like, ‘How can someone say that they believe such contradictory, irrational, non-sensical things?’

And we would work out Augustine’s treatment of reason and faith, Aquinas’ thoughts on how reason can do the majority of the work and Kant’s elevation of reason to the point where it seems to have ascended somehow to a realm of sacred mystery. But the question would remain – what are these theologians/philosophers talking about? What is the moment where one’s soul somehow reaches a communion with the divine (Augustine in the garden, the transformation of the Apostles, etc)? How are we to understand the glaring contradictions in the Old Testament and between the Old and New Testaments? How are we to make the leap from a rational understanding of a necessary Being or a necessary First Mover to a Christian God commanding love and/or fear and obedience? How can we talk about faith and reason together (as Aquinas does) when faith seems to be necessarily contradictory and reason necessarily flawed?

YouTube - Updated: That's What Friends Are For


YouTube - Updated: That's What Friends Are For

I have been playing this video and song more or less constantly since I found it on You Tube recently, I absolutely adore it, perhaps it's got something to do with the TV series too . It also brings back memories of a very happy childhood. How lucky we were ! For that I have my parents to thank , isn't it a pity that it's only as you get older that you realize how much work was entailed in bringing up a family so that we all felt safe and loved.
- The five of us.

Have a listen to this song and enjoy it ! I remember so well all our family grouped around the TV watching and enjoying the homespun philosophy, ( I'm not looking back through rose coloured glasses either) . We as a family loved all these lovely soppy stories which all had happy endings... If only life was still like that now...

I hope that all my Grandchildren have memories as sweet and happy.

Love, Kate xxx.

Spring has arrived !

Hello Folks,


Do you know how 'I' know that Spring has arrived? Well, lying on top of my comfortable and cosy bed last night - watching TV and quaffing 'another' mug of lovely hot tea I was kinda wakened out of my stupor by a buzzing and an annoying draught which I 'felt' on my legs. I turned away from the screen in time to see a 'flippen great HUGE wasp' pass by me........ After I panicked and jumped up from me bed I let out a scream ! my Demented Other who had just arrived home from a late meeting shouted - what the " f8*0((8**6^ Hell is it " ?

-Example of a second "Auld Alliance"...

I should explain by saying that I am 'absolutely terrified out of my aged mind' by wasps and will probably one day end my present incarnation by running out onto a very busy road and there be squashed to a pulp by cars - this! to my flippen 'daft' mind takes second place to being stung by one of these creatures - are you with me ? D.O. thought we had burglars by the panic and noise that was emanating from my screaming orifice.....

Soooo, D.O. took charge, step 1 was to get me quietened, and out of the road while he (wonderful, brave demented one - and naked as the day he was born) entered the room where the 'OGRE' was to be found ! After a lot of fumbling, waving of towels and spraying of waspkiller foam 'HE' emerged triumphant - to let me know that the culprit had been found and 'exterminated' ... Wayhayy .. my Hero !

Let me just say at this point he really is a Hero and Wonderman because, he is just slightly less terrified than I am of these creatures - hehehe...

I don't know why but every ruddy year since we have moved to this house we have, (along with lots of our neighbours) had a wasps nest in out attic and every year we have to call out the council's brave men who turn up and spray the offending culprits home, squashing it to bits and every year we have to go through the same performance .... Why they (the wasps) like our houses God alone knows.

So there ya go - it's a first to have the experience of seeing the 'Queen' before the ruddy wasp season starts, but now I know that 'Spring' is here - without a doubt..




Bye for now, Kate xxx.



P.S. can anyone tell me why the year we went to Frejus, Provence (South of France) when my brother was getting married to a girl from there we (a family party of twelve of the Scottish relatives) spent a week or so exploring the countryside and having picnics in woods etc. We never saw 'one' of these offending creatures ! while we had our picnics. My Brother related an experience which forever earned my respect for his Mother in law by the way she just coolly calmly and slowly swept her arm around a very stray wasp kind of shooing it away ... He explained it by likening it to Chinese people practicing Tai Chi in their parks ! Can it be that the panic that one of these wasps engenders in me causes them to 'want' to be near me ? Perhaps there is a huge sign on my forehead which says "all wasps welcome here".



Byee x.

Reading

emmanuel polanco 3

[emmanuel polanco]


Just a short note on The Book of Other People, edited by Zadie Smith, which I finished last night:

My favorites were back to back: 'Theo' by Dave Eggers and 'Perkus Tooth' by Jonathan Lethem, the first because it was about mountains who were giants who could and would love -- the second because it reminded me of the man who lived below me in my brownstone in NY. He was my landlord's nephew and basically the super of the building and on the few occasions I would peek in I would catch a glimpse of the world of the Manhattan neurotic. Towering stacks of magazines and newspapers (New Yorker and the Times) seemed to support the elaborately detailed ceiling and sometimes a fog of pot would creep out and even up the stairs to curl under my door. He always extended conversations for far too long and knew too much about real estate and tax rates. He wasn't like Perkus (or if he I never bothered to find out).

I like reading about other people -- it's part of the allure of the blogging world -- I like to imagine how different things could be, or to try and see how similar they are.

Reading

emmanuel polanco 3

[emmanuel polanco]


Just a short note on The Book of Other People, edited by Zadie Smith, which I finished last night:

My favorites were back to back: 'Theo' by Dave Eggers and 'Perkus Tooth' by Jonathan Lethem, the first because it was about mountains who were giants who could and would love -- the second because it reminded me of the man who lived below me in my brownstone in NY. He was my landlord's nephew and basically the super of the building and on the few occasions I would peek in I would catch a glimpse of the world of the Manhattan neurotic. Towering stacks of magazines and newspapers (New Yorker and the Times) seemed to support the elaborately detailed ceiling and sometimes a fog of pot would creep out and even up the stairs to curl under my door. He always extended conversations for far too long and knew too much about real estate and tax rates. He wasn't like Perkus (or if he I never bothered to find out).

I like reading about other people -- it's part of the allure of the blogging world -- I like to imagine how different things could be, or to try and see how similar they are.

Examined

[Miranda Lehman]

Well I planned on avoiding Kant today -- I have to finish the Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals sometime tomorrow, but I was feeling too airy and cheerful today to think about the categorical imperative.

However, as I was leafing through an edition of the St. John's Review that I found tucked between some stacks of paper, I began reading something by Eva Brann. It was a transcription of a talk she gave to the Graduate students in Yale's Classics department in 2006. And it includes Kant. As I've written before, Ms. Brann's thoughts on education and the role of philosophy resonate very strongly with me and inform my own core of beliefs about the role of the educator and the educational institution.

I wanted to copy out some of her advice to the students, advice which I take to heart.

Try not to think, in fact never think, of the writing you do as 'my work.' Those of you who are researchers at heart must believe -- though there is something problematic about it -- that they are part of a common progressive work, the advancement of learning. As I say, it's problematic whether there is any actual progress in the humanities, or whether as the cutting edge digs into the future, the past silts up and sinks into sedimented oblivion. Yet whoever is nonetheless committed to scholarship must surely believe that they can own no real estate on the orbis intellectualis where all is common ground tilled for the increase of knowledge. So much sadder is it to hear teachers speak of 'my work.' Is teaching not their work?

To put it another way: The scholarly world is more and more a virtual world, spatially expansive but often topically constricted. For my part, I think the humanly full life is concretely local and intellectually wide, to be lived in a face-to-face community whose members can talk to each other about anything, where nothing of human interest is interdicted; where you don't have to mount a colloquium to have a colloquy, where there are no taboos except indifference and incivility; where discourse does not divide into either shop talk or chat but observes the truly interesting human mean; and above all, where no one owns a specialty so that others have to venture opinions with the disclaimer, 'Of course, that's not my subject.'

How does one explain St. John's to people who have not experienced it? I know I can't. I'm often asked how my classes are going, how I'm liking teaching -- and I have trouble responding. Those two hours every Monday, and now the added time working in a small trio during oral exams -- those hours are very good. Now that I'm in the position of 'tutor' I pay much more attention to the weave of the conversation during seminar -- the way ideas are ventured, dropped, picked up, reinterpreted, discarded, transformed. It's fascinating to see the fruit of minds working in concert -- and it can be thrilling. There are, of course, awkward pauses in conversation -- there are minutes spent on some niggling point or commandeered by someone for selfish purposes. But it always rights itself. There are those shining moments when someone speaks and people turn to them, hearing what they say, thinking about it, finding some understanding click for them -- communal, shared knowledge.

And when we break up after class the conversations continue -- more casual, still pointed, interested.

Ms. Brann continues her advice to the Yale students -- it's long, but if you have a few moments to set aside and really read it, I think it's valuable, at least as something to make one step back and re-examine.

Let me make sure here that I'm rightly understood: These instructions aren't meant as categorical imperatives, unconditional commandments. They are rather what Kant calls 'hypothetical imperatives,' of the 'if-then' type. The protasis of each is: 'If you want to live happily' -- as Aristotle thinks of happiness: the soul activated in accordance with human excellence. The apodosis is: 'then try doing it this way.'

Socrates is said to have told the Athenians in his last public appearance that 'the unexamined life is not worth living for a human being;' 'ho...anaxetastos bios ou biotos anthropoi.' I think he is being more absolute than 'worth living' conveys. I would translate: 'the uninspected life is not a lived life.' Socrates is uttering both a claim and an injunction. The injunction is to ask yourself what you're doing, and the claim is that if you don't, you aren't all there, not quite alive. To me what Socrates says seems utterly true, and on that hypothesis I'll proceed. What are we doing, we who are at home in the world of learning? That's plain: mostly we use words. To be human means to have logos -- and indeed we do hardly anything but employ logos -- rational speech in general and special words in particular. It is then, part of our particular business to know what we are saying.

So don't use words you don't understand or don't mean to come to understand at least partly. Graduate school is rightly more training than education, more preparation for a profession than learning for the sake of being all there. Hence the possession of a professional vocabulary, often well-invented and always serviceable for expressing yourself within the guild -- and, I can't help adding, for marking greenhorns and amateurs -- is not only an accomplishment but also a professional deformation. So talk human whenever possible to know something, at least a little, of the explicit or implicit theory behind the language of the humanities.

You might construe what I've just said as an incitement to theorize, to engage in theory. Not so, just the opposite. It is an incitement to philosophy, which is the same name for the questions Socrates thinks will make you come to, be all there, all aware. Moreover, here's a claim some of you will resist and some of you will recognize as the articulation of your own suspicions: Theory is the enemy -- were I given to hyperbole I would say, the deadly enemy -- of philosophy, more accurately, of Socratic philosophizing [...] I understand philosophy to be everyone's business, certainly a classicist's. It is the desire to look as straight, deep, and directly into yourself and out into the world as you can. (It has, of course, only a tenuous occasional connection to the academic subject by that name.) That effort I'm speaking of, introspective and contemplative, looking within and gazing at the heavens, used indeed to be called theory. Theoria has a long and fascinating passage of diminution into 'theory.' Theory is a rational screen, a mental jig under which things are re-formed into pre-assigned shapes. It is a form of rationalization but not always of thinking. It is logos, however not plus receptive love but plus willful manipulation. A theory is fun to devise but the devil to inherit, because duty demands that we grasp it and wisdom asks that we resist it. Here's another way to put it: when you spot trendiness or recognize ideology -- the marks will be a jigged and unnatural terminology -- become a porcupine, all quills up.

This post has run on, but I wonder about all of this all the time. I remember a comment made by the director of my study abroad program in London -- Jack Manning -- he liked me and we would often talk about my plans for school -- for what I wanted to do with my degree in words and art -- I remember how negatively he spoke of humaities departments carved up into niches, creating words like conflate -- a word he hated. I took his words to heart, and his advice to look again at St. John's, to go there first, before anything else.

I read Barrett's Middle Kingdom today and her title phrase kept returning to my mind -- I keep thinking of my attempt to stand firmly in the middle of so many rushing currents around me. Or maybe not firmly, not yet -- for now I am perhaps on the banks, sometimes gliding my fingers along the surface of first this one deep pool of thought, then this other -- tasting sometimes cool, sweet waters, sometimes bitter or stagnant. I feel excited by the options, but they're overwhelming. Couldn't I re-read Aristotle's Metaphysics or King Lear or even Magic Mountain over and over and be satisfied? This world, our humanity, even the individual life in its multitudinous complexity -- how can I find some anchor, some stability? It is necessary to bolster thought with fact and inspection, and its also necessary to infuse reason with wonder. How can I stand firmly, feet planted in two kingdoms?