Friday, October 17, 2014

Links of Note

* 168th Philosophers' Carnival

* Sci Phi Journal

* Dale Van Kley has a critical review of Jonathan Israel's series on the Radical Enlightenment.

* Newly discovered cave art in Indonesia changes the timeline for human beings engaging in art; the cave art goes back as far as the earliest cave art previously known, in Spain and Southern France. Finding it about the same time so far apart strongly suggests that the practice may go back thousands of years farther than previously thought.

* Sister Doris Engelhard, Europe's last brewmaster nun

* Corey Robin discusses Kantianism in Arendt's Eichmann in Jerusalem, as well as the question of whether Arendt saw Eichmann testify.

* Stephen Read on why medieval logic matters.

* Gregory Fried discusses Heidegger's Black Notebooks.

* Elissa at "WIT" discusses charges of modern-day Jansenism. As she notes, the use of the label is often rather detached from what the Jansenists actually were, as well as from what the Jansenists were specifically condemned for.

* Clare Coffey, Duty and Delight

* Distractify colorizes 52 old black and white photos.

What It Is Not

That the thing perceived, I replied, is not the same as the thing not perceived, I grant; but I do not discover any answer to our question in such a statement; it is not yet clear to me what we are to think that thing not-perceived to be; all I have been shown by your argument is that it is not anything material; and I do not yet know the fitting name for it. I wanted especially to know what it is, not what it is not.

We do learn, she replied, much about many things by this very same method, inasmuch as, in the very act of saying a thing is not so and so, we by implication interpret the very nature of the thing in question. For instance, when we say a guileless, we indicate a good man; when we say unmanly, we have expressed that a man is a coward; and it is possible to suggest a great many things in like fashion, wherein we either convey the idea of goodness by the negation of badness , or vice versâ. Well, then, if one thinks so with regard to the matter now before us, one will not fail to gain a proper conception of it. The question is—What are we to think of Mind in its very essence? Now granted that the inquirer has had his doubts set at rest as to the existence of the thing in question, owing to the activities which it displays to us, and only wants to know what it is, he will have adequately discovered it by being told that it is not that which our senses perceive, neither a colour, nor a form, nor a hardness, nor a weight, nor a quantity, nor a cubic dimension, nor a point, nor anything else perceptible in matter; supposing, that is, that there does exist a something beyond all these.

St. Gregory of Nyssa and St. Macrina the Younger in Gregory of Nyssa's On the Soul and the Resurrection.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

But the Dawning of that Light

Reflections Upon “Butler’s Analogy of Religion.”
by Rosa Emma Salamon

There as a likeness in all natural things,
A strict analogy, which clearly brings
Religion, and all nature to agree;
The veil withdrawn—I now distinctly see.
If first we trace each diff’rent stage of life,
We prove a future peace from present strife,
Death, no destruction of the moral power,
Which oft is brightest in our latest hour,
And even a change of nature, or pure soul,
Still leaves the active mind without control.
The body is the instrument alone,
The soul is all that we can call our own.
What though we cease to live, thought does not cease,
But bursts the prison doors at death’s release;
Waits but that moment to enlarge, expand,
Commence new life in death, eternal! grand!
And if in search of happiness we miss,
The fault is ours, not God’s, who formed for bliss,
Left us in part free will to choose our way,
Thereby our faith and patience to essay.
And it may be His holy, blessed will,
That we, the creatures of His matchless skill,
Should act accordingly to nature’s plan,
Which lies beyond our present power to scan.
To our weak sense, no doubt some actions lie
As if they lacked his moral scrutiny;
No step we take, no act so small soe’er,
But wisdom infinite, with wondrous care
Has governed, for some latent good, an end
To which His purpose wise will ever tend.
And thus remorse may be the shadow sent,
Forewarning of a future punishment;
And feelings pure, with conscience void of guile,
May be the type of Heaven’s approving smile.
And so in early youth we should begin
To shut out all the avenues of sin;
Nor this alone, but let not pass in vain
Those moments which will ne’er return again;
But like the bee, who robs the unconscious flower,
Let us enrich our minds each fleeting hour.
Nor let us e’er distrust, or be dismayed,
Be fear and hope in equal balance weighed;
Else in presumptuous gale we may be tossed,
Or down the low abyss in darkness lost.
’Tis true we cannot clearly now perceive
God’s government, all goodness to achieve;
But we are blind, the world obstructs our sight,
For this is but the dawning of that light,
The noonday is in Heaven, where we shall see,
And comprehend, what now seems mystery.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Two Poem Re-Drafts

In the Dark and Dead of Night

In the dark and dead of night
I feel your glory still inside;
through the sorrow and the pain
I see your rainbow in the rain;
and as the wind moves through the leaves
your Holy Spirit moves through me:
though darkness draws each day to close
your light shines on the blooded rose.

In all death, in dark despair,
I turn around and you are there;
through the shadows in my soul
your glory shines undimmed and whole;
and as the wind moves through the leaves
your Holy Spirit moves through me:
though harm should come, and threat of war,
salvation's hope still lies in store.

In the storm that rises high,
like lightning bursts your Presence nigh;
through the wilderness and fight
you, the pole star, give your light;
and as the wind moves through the leaves
your Holy Spirit moves through me:
though trouble strikes and I must roam
and death will come, you draw me home.

Aridity and Consolation

I walked one day, a wanderer amid the trees,
singing out a song, the sun now hid from view
but hot the air, no whisper in the leaves
nor breeze to blow like balm to heal heat's wounds.
Then came I on a course that cut through stone,
once water-widened as it wandered home,
now dry with dust, undamp, like ancient bone,
yet remembering moisture, mists of long ago.

It seemed I saw then in this silent wood
a phoenix, fireborn, that flew from bough to bough,
seeking the stream long slain by drought of old.
Coming to the course, it cried so soft and low
angels could but weep and echo it in dreams;
my hearing had hardly found its heaven in those strains
when the phoenix died by that drought-devoured stream
and lightly fell, finished, its fire stripped of glow.

Then, highing like a herald, a hind of silver-white
bounded up with bitter haste, pursued by baying hounds,
It vaulted, forceful-valiant, like silver moon in light,
leaping beneath the laurel, whose leaves were on it crowned.
It was taken by the dogs, it died and knew no more,
and, broken in its bone, its blood on forest floor,
it sank like sunset, thrice solemn in its woe,
a late moon: once alive, it at last was overthrown.

Then I wept. From my eyes the water fled in grief;
it bore the salt of sorrow, the sadness of my pain,
in rivers overflowing ruined, rained upon the leaves,
as mightily I mourned that the marvels I had seen
should die their death, no dawn at all in sight.
Overcome, I cried at the coming of the night.
With breath embittered, I broke with sob and sigh:
my ache, a yearning to recover, alone remained.

But wait! one whisper whistled in the trees,
rose and rushed and roared with living force;
a wave, as in war an army like the seas
will arm and rise, did water again the course,
a pouring-out with power like thundering clouds of rain;
from furthest foreign-land some fountain broke again,
as though the God of glory with grace, or even whim,
compassionate for the creek, created a new source.

First there broke a flood; then flame did burst to light
as, fire all around it, the phoenix winged in gold
rose in ruddy glory with rays that blinded sight,
winging up to heaven, the highest of high roads,
scion of the sun, with shining in its wings,
so holy in its egress as to humble we who sin,
bring penitent to prayer, spark seraphim to sing,
more radiant its rising than sunlight red and bold.

Blood slowly dripped to pools from the dying hind.
With flood and flame it mingled, was forcefully imbued
with volumes of flowing fire, embracing as in kind
the conquered carcass and, covering it with blood,
woke it to new life, washed all weariness away,
and death undid, as night undone by day.
Then, leaping into life, litheful in its play,
the hind, silver flash, sped, shot, through primal wood.

The flood, I saw, was faith; the phoenix charity;
the hind was hope, the herald of new life;
and I saw with seeing vision and flux of ecstasy
that saved souls are sundered, made to die,
brought to solemn burial to be born anew.
Hearts grow old and ancient; to awful death they go,
but then a cycle starts, like this shadow of the true:
our hearts, renewed with life, leap to taste the light.


Today is the Feast of St. Teresa of Avila, Doctor of the Church. The transverberation or ecstasy, one of the most famous episodes from her Life (Chapter XXIX.16-17):

I saw an angel close by me, on my left side, in bodily form. This I am not accustomed to see, unless very rarely. Though I have visions of angels frequently, yet I see them only by an intellectual vision, such as I have spoken of before. It was our Lord's will that in this vision I should see the angel in this wise. He was not large, but small of stature, and most beautiful—his face burning, as if he were one of the highest angels, who seem to be all of fire: they must be those whom we call cherubim. Their names they never tell me; but I see very well that there is in heaven so great a difference between one angel and another, and between these and the others, that I cannot explain it.

I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the iron's point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it. The soul is satisfied now with nothing less than God. The pain is not bodily, but spiritual; though the body has its share in it, even a large one. It is a caressing of love so sweet which now takes place between the soul and God, that I pray God of His goodness to make him experience it who may think that I am lying.

Bernini, of course, has a famous sculpture of it:

Santa teresa di bernini 03

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Gradually but Steadily Advancing Approximation

We would, therefore, for our parts, remit to God and the future all properly unconditional and absolute knowledge. For, irrespectively of the delusive phantom of a pretended mathematical method and rigor of demonstration, which is both fundamentally false, and, moreover, totally inapplicable to the present sphere of inquiry, such an absolute science, merely as claiming to be positive, trenches ultimately on omniscience. We therefore prefer modestly to acquiesce in pretensions more suitable to man's position in the world. If, therefore, we confine ourselves within the prescribed limits, and are content with a gradually but steadily advancing approximation to perfect truth, as it is in God, we shall soon find that even within these boundaries a legitimate idea of science may be set up and advanced.

Friedrich von Schlegel, Philosophy of Language, p. 487. He is contrasting what he calls the Socratic and the Spinozist ideas of philosophy; Schlegel upholds the Socratic idea, which he characterizes as 'gradual approximation to eternal truth', and criticizes the view he sees as usually found in modern philosophers (especially, although not exclusively, German ones) that claims absolute knowledge through rigid application of system.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Radio Greats: Columbus Day Play (Life with Luigi)

Life with Luigi ran on the radio from late 1948 to early 1953. It also was transferred to television, but failed there -- the first attempt failed due to a dispute with sponsors (it was getting relatively high ratings, but General Foods claimed it was subversive because it poked fun of the complications of corporate bureaucracies), and the second attempt failed to keep fans. During its run, however, it was one of the more popular radio sitcoms.

It generally manages to be quite funny despite the fact that it is extremely formulaic. It specializes in running gags (radio comedy often did, but Life with Luigi has tons and tons of them), the same jokes over and over in different situations. Part of its success is the acting, which makes the characters very likable; the actors were some of the best comic actors in radio. And making the audience like the characters is the secret to running gags. If you like them, you would be disappointed if Pasquale didn't try to turn Luigi's problem of the day into an attempt to force Luigi to marry Pasquale's daughter Rosa, and you equally want Luigi somehow to manage to avoid it by the end.

The series is about the life of Italian immigrant Luigi Basco (played by an Irish-American actor, J. Carrol Naish, one of the most widely recognized actors of his day) as Luigi attempts to navigate American society. The frame for every episode is Luigi writing his mother in Italy and enthusiastically telling her about America. He attends night classes with a number of other immigrants, is constantly getting entangled with his fellow Italian immigrant, Pasquale, and in each episode finds his faith in the American way of life reaffirmed -- although sometimes during the episode it is shaken for a while.

In "Columbus Day Play", Luigi is, as one might expect, put in charge of the Columbus Day play, which he is very proud to do, being Italian himself. But things never go quite right with Luigi, and he ends up having to improvise when he loses the script....

You can listen to "Columbus Day Play" online thanks to Old Time Radio Comedy Time. It is also available as episode 56 at My Old Radio.

Music on My Mind

Nicole Ensing Band, "The Great Minimum". It's a Chesterton poem, and they have captured the mood almost perfectly:

The Great Minimum
by G. K. Chesterton

It is something to have wept as we have wept,
It is something to have done as we have done,
It is something to have watched when all men slept,
And seen the stars which never see the sun.

It is something to have smelt the mystic rose,
Although it break and leave the thorny rods,
It is something to have hungered once as those
Must hunger who have ate the bread of gods.

To have seen you and your unforgotten face,
Brave as a blast of trumpets for the fray,
Pure as white lilies in a watery space,
It were something, though you went from me today.

To have known the things that from the weak are furled,
Perilous ancient passions, strange and high;
It is something to be wiser than the world,
It is something to be older than the sky.

In a time of sceptic moths and cynic rusts,
And fattened lives that of their sweetness tire
In a world of flying loves and fading lusts,
It is something to be sure of a desire.

Lo, blessed are our ears for they have heard;
Yea, blessed are our eyes for they have seen:
Let the thunder break on man and beast and bird
And the lightning. It is something to have been.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Socrates in the Anabasis

Xenophon's Anabasis is one of the great works of Greek history. It is an autobiographical tale in which Xenophon tells how he joined the Greek mercenary band of the Ten Thousand. The Ten Thousand were hired by the Persian prince, Cyrus the Younger, who was trying to take the throne of Persia from his brother, Artaxerxes II. The Greek army marched into Persia (anabasis means an expedition inland from the coast -- literally, it's a 'going up') and at Cunaxa, north of Babylon, they tore the Persian army there to shreds, despite the fact that they were outnumbered nearly four to one. Unfortunately, they then learned that Cyrus the Younger had been killed. So the Greek senior officers offered their services to the satrap Tissaphernes. He accepted and invited the officers to a feast, where he promptly arrested and killed them all. Thus the Ten Thousand were stranded in hostile territory with no officers. They worked out on the fly a 'marching republic' structure of decision-making, in which Xenophon played a prominent role, and marched back to the coast. The most famous episode, often echoed, is when they finally and suddenly come to Trebizond on the Black Sea and the soldiers begin shouting, "Thalassa, Thalassa!" (The Sea, The Sea!). They then did some mercenary fighting for various powers for a brief period, and it was due to this that Xenophon the Athenian came to be in the service of Sparta, which led to his official exile from Athens.

Xenophon begins the work in the middle, first telling us about the Battle of Cunaxa. Then in Book III, when the Greek army discovers that its captains have been killed, he tells us, in third person, how he came to be involved in the matter:

There was a man in the army named Xenophon, an Athenian, who was neither general nor captain nor private, but had accompanied the expedition because Proxenus, an old friend of his, had sent him at his home an invitation to go with him; Proxenus had also promised him that, if he would go, he would make him a friend of Cyrus, whom he himself regarded, so he said, as worth more to him than was his native state. After reading Proxenus' letter Xenophon conferred with Socrates, the Athenian, about the proposed journey; and Socrates, suspecting that his becoming a friend of Cyrus might be a cause for accusation against Xenophon on the part of the Athenian government, for the reason that Cyrus was thought to have given the Lacedaemonians zealous aid in their war against Athens, advised Xenophon to go to Delphi and consult the god in regard to this journey. So Xenophon went and asked Apollo to what one of the gods he should sacrifice and pray in order best and most successfully to perform the journey which he had in mind and, after meeting with good fortune, to return home in safety; and Apollo in his response told him to what gods he must sacrifice. When Xenophon came back from Delphi, he reported the oracle to Socrates; and upon hearing about it Socrates found fault with him because he did not first put the question whether it were better for him to go or stay, but decided for himself that he was to go and then asked the god as to the best way of going. “However,” he added, “since you did put the question in that way, you must do all that the god directed.”

What Xenophon says was Socrates' worry turned out to be at least more or less accurate: the association with Cyrus the Younger probably did contribute to the Athenian banishment of him.

One of the things that is also clear is that Xenophon took Socrates' parting advice very seriously: not only did he do what the Oracle told him, he makes sacrifices and follows omens throughout the course of the expedition, up to the very end, and is scrupulous about following through. The practical importance of piety to the gods is quite prominent in all of Xenophon's works, and it seems very likely that this interaction is a significant influence on him in this regard.

This scene is the only one in which Socrates the philosopher appears in the Anabasis, but it sheds a light on everything else in the work.

Fortnightly Book, October 12

J. Michael Straczynski is one of the major figures of pop culture media. Hyper-prolific, he has written for radio, television, film, stage, books, comic books, magazines. His most famous accomplishment has been producing Babylon 5, one of the major series of television science fiction, during which he also wrote 92 of its 110 episodes, which is the reason for the uniquely tight plotting for which Babylon 5 became famous.

For this fortnightly book, I'll be looking at his first horror novel, Demon Night. Straczynski is a long-time Stephen King fan, so it has plenty of traces of that influence, right down to its setting, which is rural Maine. It even opens with an epigraph from King:

There's little good in sedentary small towns. Mostly indifference spiced with an occasional vapid evil--or worse, a conscious one.

Straczynski wrote it just to write it -- a sort of King-style story with features for which he had a taste -- but he was eventually convinced to publish it. Straczynski in an afterword to the reprint, which I have, notes himself that it has the "inevitable flaws and excesses of any first novel", and the reviews are all over the place, with some people rating it very highly and others panning it. And I'm also not a huge fan of horror -- I don't mind it, but I've never been creeped out by a book in my life, and thus am missing out on what most fans of horror novels really like about them. So it should be interesting to see how this turns out.

Here is J. Michael Straczynski on how to write:

The Wind and the Trees

The great human dogma, then, is that the wind moves the trees. The great human heresy is that the trees move the wind. When people begin to say that the material circumstances have alone created the moral circumstances, then they have prevented all possibility of serious change. For if my circumstances have made me wholly stupid, how can I be certain even that I am right in altering those circumstances?

The man who represents all thought as an accident of environment is simply smashing and discrediting all his own thoughts--including that one. To treat the human mind as having an ultimate authority is necessary to any kind of thinking, even free thinking. And nothing will ever be reformed in this age or country unless we realise that the moral fact comes first.

G. K. Chesterton, "The Wind and the Trees," Tremendous Trifles.