Wednesday, December 25, 2013

It seems appropriate to say that phenomenology is "metalogical."  On the one hand phenomenology happens prior to logic -- as in the apprehension of essences, i.e., eidetic intuition -- but on the other hand posterior to logic -- as in reflection of the nature of logic as a complete organism.  Logic is properly something which happens in the natural attitude:  it is propositional reflection.  Phenomenology transcends argumentation to the realm or "space" of truthfulness, of truth as known or as mine.  Certainly there is a continuous dialectic and dialogue between logical and phenomenological (metalogical) thought. Appropriating the medieval categories, one might say that logic is Ratio and phenomenology is Intellectus.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

felix culpa

I was looking through some old papers, all written in 2006, and by some happy accident found two poems that I (evidently!) had written, scribbled on the back of a sheet of a rough draft for an essay I was writing. They could use some revision, of course; but for now, I copy them exactly as I found them, in all their off-the-cuff glory.

This, you knew, maturated your being
And begged you for compromise with the world surrounding.
The world, your world, unfolds before you with
Eloquence and diligence, loveliness and sprite.
Have you enough ply to crack open this nut?
The world, sweet world, which sprints
Before you?  The mysteries of ages, the
Wonderment of minds, beyond your finitude,
Have but scratched the surface
Of the darkest corners of sights even untold.
Yet you seek, your finest achievement, and wield the
Knowledge of Being in Action, knowing, yet not,
The strength of your own mind, you wait,
You wait to dawn upon your intellect the essence,
The kernel, the radical definition of this thing.

*               *               *

The street-light makes love to the mist,
And a little kiss hurt no one ever,
Who so longed to touch your body
Couldn’t lose the misty longing of the night.
Four pieces composed your decomposèd life,
And sucked out of me potency and inertia and truth.

Orson Welles said that while he loved making movies, he didn't like watching them.  Dare I write poems who does not (except for Eliot) read them?

Notes toward the establishment of a new blog

There are many things I've thought about as regards the pursuit of a purely autonomous career.  I've made little films and thought about making bigger ones; I've re-mastered the guitar, recorded, and figured on making a living as a musician; I've spent a decade in the university system figuring I might eventually become a professor of something, but probably either Philosophy, English, or Art History.

The saga of areas I want to "break in to" continues:  along with Italian Renaissance architecture, which I've been studying off and on for over a year, I'm now poking my nose into geometry, and the physics of music.

In all of these "fields," while it is true that they intrigue me in a theoretical way, I can't say I have any interest in them on a practical level.  For examples:  I really don't want to start playing gigs; nor do I want to be an architect, design new buildings; nor do I want to get anywhere near that Edifice of Bullshit which is Modern Academia.

The one area of confidence I have -- that which exceeds anything else I'm capable of doing, relatively speaking -- is writing.  I don't remember a time when I didn't have a knack for language.  Nor have I ever met anyone who was a better writer than I am.  I'm sure there are better writers out there, but I've never met any of them.  I have read many of them, but they're all dead now.

But here, alas, is the rub:  I have no passion for writing!  So what am I doing right now:  I'm communicating thoughts, by means of writing. What most people call Great Writers are, more properly speaking, literary artists:  they make beautiful objects -- just as plastic artists do -- but with pen, paper, and poem or paragraph.  I would call this writing for writing's sake (ars gratia artis).  And these type writers, true writers -- those who have both the natural talent and passion -- do not do what I want to do.

However, I seem to only be able to do what I want to do by means of writing.  For what I want to do most of all is to study, to master, and to communicate my findings.  The only way I know of to do this (besides talking) is to write.  This activity is not writing for writing's sake, it is not art.  This is more akin to philosophical reflection.  What I am talking about is writing for the sake of something else.  E.g., writing about an idea, writing about a building, writing about a film, writing about an author or book, writing about music theory.  All I really want in life is to understand (and, on occasion, to get into "a reasonable amount of trouble").

What I've been thinking of, in terms of a new blog, consists of -- rather than most blogs one sees, which deal with one predominant "subject" -- interdisciplinarity.  I would have one blog, but with separate sections; e.g., there would be a section on Philosophy, a section on Architecture, a section on Music, a section on books and authors that I read, a section on films perhaps.  In the music section, I would discuss not only music theory, but also have recordings of my concrete experimentation on guitar with new theoretical ideas (which would stream, but could also be available for people to download for a small price).

But with all of this, I see still something much bigger going on.  I believe that all of these things are connected. I see, e.g., music and architecture not merely as two separate arts, but as two kinds of manifestation of deeper ontological significance.  So, perhaps, what I am working toward is a great game of connect-the-dots.  Looking for such "substrates" might, in fact, form the content of the section on philosophy.

Alas, about all of the aforementioned, I have my doubts....

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

my nihilism

I wrote this down several months ago and just now re-read it.  I think it's a good example of how logic can be employed to separate out groundless emotion from the mind, and yet place one back in his original state, but with clearer understanding of the fundamental issue.

I think my nihilistic streak is very unconventional. For one, I do not hold that the universe is without purpose or that humanity is without purpose within it. I do not deny the reality of objective truth. No, the "nothing" of my nihilism has to do with me: it is I, who seem to serve no purpose, have no function or reason for existing, other than to exist, and to be painfully aware of existing with out purpose. The cosmos is not chaos: I alone am chaos.

The flaw in most nihilistic argument is that X has a feeling of purposelessness and projects this on to the entire universe:  his error is to assume that the truth of the part includes the truth of the whole.  The flaw in my own nihilistic argument is the other way around:  I assert that the universe, and humanity, of which I am a part, have a purpose, and that I am part of this whole, but have no purpose.  But whatever is true of the whole is true of the part.  So, if the world is purposeful, so must I, being a part of it.  I just don't know what that purpose is.

Friday, November 15, 2013

I can never really decide if I have "what it takes" to be a professional musician.  I haven't done most of the things requisite to embarking on such a career.  I don't sell myself; I rarely perform anymore; I don't practice enough.  Nor can I ever tell what other people really think of my playing; some people love it, and others are indifferent to it.  One thing I've never been told is that I'm no good at it; at the very least I haven't been told that I suck.  Invariably it seems people will take either the position that I'm really good, or that they don't understand what I'm doing.  I suppose this is because I'm not much of a "song writer."  In any case I feel like I'm floundering in mediocrity.  But one thing that everything seems to always come back around to is that I'm better at this than I am at anything else -- at least, at anything that could potentially do to make a living. There are things that I like much more than music, but they're all things that I couldn't make a living at.  Or, there are things that I can do better than almost anyone -- such as writing -- but which I have no interest at all in making a living of, even though it is a talent that can be made into a living.  Actually, I think that for me writing and music are in the same position:  I can do them well, but they're not what I "want to do."  The things I "want to do" either are not marketable, or else they are things that I am, in fact, not already good at, things that I have still yet to learn.  My position is very precarious.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

the proto-phenomenologist

"σωφρονεῖν ἀρετὴ μεγίστη, καὶ σοφίη ἀληθέα λέγειν καὶ ποιεῖν κατὰ φύσιν ἐπαίοντας." + Ἡράκλειτος

"Reflective reasoning is wisdom, and the most excellent of virtues, for it unveils meaning by listening to the essence of things." 

+ Heraclitus (Fragment 112)

Friday, November 1, 2013

Mere Lewistry

"The dominant impression I get from reading the Psalms is one of antiquity.  I seem to be looking into a deep pit of time, but looking through a lens which brings the figures who inhabit that depth up close to my eye.  In that momentary proximity they are almost shockingly alien; creatures of unrestrained emotion, wallowing in self-pity, sobbing, cursing, screaming in exultation, clashing uncouth weapons or dancing to the din of strange musical instruments.  Yet, side by side with this, there is also a different image in my mind:  Anglican choirs, well laundered surplices, soapy boys' faces, hassocks, an organ, prayer-books, and perhaps the smell of new-mown graveyard grass coming in with the sunlight through an open door.  Sometimes the one, sometimes the other, impression grows faint, but neither, perhaps ever quite disappears.  The irony reaches its height when a boy soloist sings in that treble which is so beautifully free from all personal emotion the words whereby ancient warriors lashed themselves with frenzy against their enemies; and does this in the service of the God of Love, and himself, meanwhile, perhaps thinks neither of God nor of ancient wars but of 'bullseyes' and the Comics. This irony, this double or treble vision, is part of the pleasure.  I begin to suspect that it is part of the profit too."

+ C. S. Lewis, "The Pslams" (Christian Reflections)

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

theologiae graecae

"The traditional theology of the Greek Fathers devised three terms for these three aspects of man's one spirit.  That which is unconscious and below reason was the anima or psyche, the 'animal' soul, the realm of instinct and of emotion, the realm of automatism in which man functions as a psychophysical organism.  This anima is conceived as a kind of feminine or passive principle in man.

"Then there is the reason, the enlightened, conscious, active principle, the animus or nous. Here we have the mind as a masculine principle, the intelligence that governs, ratiocinates, guides our activity in the light of prudence and of thought.  It is meant to direct and command the feminine principle, the passive anima.  The anima is Eve, the animus is Adam.  The effect of original sin in us all is that Eve tempts Adam and he yields his reasoned thought to her blind impulse, and tends henceforth to be governed by the automatism of passionate reaction, by conditioned reflex, rather than by thought and moral principle.

"However, the true state of man is not just anima governed by animus, the masculine and the feminine.  There is an even higher principle which is above the division of masculine and feminine, active and passive, prudential and instinctive. This higher principle in which both the others are joined and transcend themselves in union with God, is the spiritus, or pneuma.  This higher principle is not merely something in man's nature, it is man himself united, vivified, raised above himself and inspired by God.

"The full stature of man is to be found in the 'spirit' or pneuma.  Man is not fully man until he is 'one spirit' with God. Man is 'spirit' when he is at once anima, animus, and spiritus.  But these three are not numerically distinct.  They are one. And when they are perfectly ordered in unity, while retaining their own rightful qualities, then man is reconstituted in the image of the Holy Trinity.

"The 'spiritual life' is then the perfectly balanced life in which the body with its passions and instincts, the mind with its reasoning and its obedience to principle and the spirit with its passive illumination by the Light and Love of God form one complete man who is in God and with God and from God and for God.  One man in whom God is all in all.  One man in whom God carries out His own will without obstacle.

"It can easily be seen that a purely emotional worship, a life of instinct, an orgiastic religion, is no spiritual life.  But also, a merely rational life, a life of conscious thought and rationally directed activity, is not fully spiritual life.  In particular it is a characteristic modern error to reduce man's spirituality to mere 'mentality,' and to confine the whole spiritual life purely and simply in the reasoning mind.  Then the spiritual life is reduced to a matter of 'thinking' -- of verbalizing, rationalizing, etc.  But such a life is truncated and incomplete.

"The true spiritual life is a life neither of dionysian orgy nor of apollonian clarity:  it transcends both.  It is a life of wisdom, a life of sophianic love. In Sophia, the highest wisdom-principle, all the greatness and majesty of the unknown that is in God and all that is rich and maternal in His creation are united inseparably, as paternal and maternal principles, the uncreated Father and created Mother-Wisdom.

"Faith is what opens to us this higher realm of unity, of strength, of light, of sophianic love where there is no longer the limited and fragmentary light provided by rational principles, but where the Truth is One and Undivided and takes all to itself in the wholeness of Sapientia, or Sophia. When St. Paul said that Love was the fulfillment of the Law and that Love had delivered man from the Law, he meant that by the Spirit of Christ we were incorporated into Christ, Himself the 'power and wisdom of God,' so that Christ Himself thenceforth became our own life, and light and love and wisdom.  Our full spiritual life is life in wisdom, life in Christ.  The darkness of faith bears fruit in the light of wisdom."

+ Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation (pp. 139-41)

Sunday, October 27, 2013

De Schola

"Leisure, considered as a state of the soul, is the counterpoint to the concept of 'intellectual labor' [the definition of philosophy as conceived by Immanuel Kant] -- and that from all three of the perspectives previously considered (labor as activity, labor as effort, and labor as social function).  First, leisure, as an attitude of inner unpreoccupiedness, is that form of being silent which is a prerequisite for attending to reality: only one who is silent can hear.  Leisure is an attitude of receptive listening, of intuitive, contemplative immersion in being.  It stands, as it were, perpendicular to the normal course of a business day:  it is not, like the work break, a part of that day; it stands in the same relation to the workday as the simple gaze of the intellectus does to the ongoing process of discursive thought.  (Boethius compared the ratio to time and the intellectus to the 'always now' of eternity.) Secondly, leisure involves the adoption of an attitude of celebratory contemplation toward the world; it is sustained by its relation to the origin of all real being, by the consciousness of being in harmony with this origin and being included within it. Leisure is, because of its affirmation of oneness with the wellspring of all being, that disposition of soul in which man can, as in sleep, without any laborious efforts, receive the gift of perceiving 'what holds the world together in its innermost being' -- a gift that is, in any event, unattainable by exertion -- even if only for a moment, a moment whose insights would then have to be rediscovered and reconstructed through strenuous labor.  Thirdly, leisure, as an attitude involving a contemplative and celebratory gazing at the world, is not a working attitude in the sense that it is directed toward performing a social function.  Its purpose is not through bodily rest or mental relaxation to generate new energy for renewed labor.... It derives its legitimation, not from the fact that the functionary remains a human being, that he does not fully identify himself with that cross-sectional milieu designated by his narrowly circumscribed function, but rather from the fact that he is able to view the world in its totality and to realize himself as a being oriented toward that whole.

"But does the genuinely philosophical not consist in precisely this, that despite all exertion and effort -- even at the intellectual level -- the posture of contemplative gazing, which is directed, acquiescingly, at the world as a whole, remains alive?  Indeed, is this not so much the case that one might legitimately argue that its leisurely quality belongs more essentially to philosophy, to philosophizing, and to philosophical education than its characterization as labor?"

+ Josef Pieper, For the Love of Wisdom (pp. 21-2)

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

[fragment 7.19.2013]

Under poison of narcotic,
I feel my mind corrupting.

Courage and honesty, crumbling.

An ivory tower of formulae and syllogism,
To keep love and pain locked outside.

Tucked away into silence and artificial security,
There is just this one moment in which illusion justifies itself.

I wake to the Devil, who offers me a smile and a cup of tea.
And he says, “That’s right.  I’ll have to be going along now.
But just let me know if you need anything.  And remember:
Everything is your own free choice.”

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

When I see "happy" people, I cannot help but think they simply do not care about the "big" questions.  Many wonder why I find life so paralyzing, and it is precisely because I cannot escape philosophy.  I don't think one can escape philosophy any more than one can escape language.  The fact that it remains ignored by a majority simply tells me that a majority of humans know next to nothing of human nature. Animals are perfectly content because they have neither language nor reason.

I must admit that I envy these happy wanderers, regardless of -- or perhaps because of -- their blissful ignorance.  It's okay to be a moron so long as you don't know it, and so long as you're surrounded by other morons.  Sometimes I wish I had never stepped foot into a bookstore or a college.

I'm reminded that this sort of metaphysical melancholy is precisely why David Hume sought to disintegrate philosophy; happiness, he thought, is only to be found in the simple life of custom and tradition, unburdened by the problems of speculation.  Still, I'm also reminded of John Stuart Mill's dictum:  "Better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a pig satisfied."

But the Cold is coming, and that always gives me hope (for reasons too complex, or just too many, to explain).  For about five months of the year I can find some degree of contentment.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

mental space

For several reasons which have presented themselves over the past few weeks, it has occurred to me more recently -- yesterday in fact -- that I need time every day not only for my independent studies (which, I take it, are vital to my mental health), but also time within this time to just think.  I think most philosophers would have called this reflection.  But I think of this "dimension for reflection" not as temporal, but as spatial.  I need mental space, room to move, to stop, to expand, to stretch, etc. Of course, as Einstein, no less, has taught us, to require space is to require time, and to require time is to require space.  Not that Aristotle, 2300 years before him didn't already realize this.  But old Alby certainly made a quaint point by showing us that they are not two different dimensions, but the same dimension, considered under different aspects -- i.e., the spaciotemporal, may be considered qua spatial and/or qua temporal.  I am probably giving Einstein a bit more phenomenological credit than is due; indeed, how I have just presented spacetime is the result of a collision:  there was a time (or space?) in my life when both phenomenology and relativity were brought to my attention, and I found marvelous parallels between the phenomenological study of "temporality" and Einstein's conclusions about the "fourth dimension."

But enough of all that.  My point is simply that I cannot overcome my writer's block, reader's block, living's block, unless this Time for Mental Space is made a priority every day.  I know from experience that without it, I am like Mark Antony who

Like to a vagabond flag upon the stream,
Goes to and back, lackeying the varying tide,
To rot itself with motion.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Patron of Prodigals

It is sometimes frightening how present and powerful the most ancient of saints can be upon invocation. The closer they were to Christ in history, the more powerful they seem to be. I'd never considered before now St. Joseph in this respect. One thinks often enough of the Child in the arms of Mary; but the thought of Him in the arms of Joseph had never occurred to me before. Everything it meant to be a man, He learned from this man; it was by means of Joseph that the Father chose to convey "fatherhood" to the human nature of His Son. Perhaps this is so profound to me personally because, though I did not grow up with my mother, I did grow up with my father. The sense that many people get from Mary's maternity has always seemed somewhat abstract to me; I've always seen her more in her Queen of Heaven aspect. But I can see Joseph as a man on earth, gratefully, joyfully, caring for the Son of Yahweh, who has been entrusted to no more than himself.

Friday, September 27, 2013

ever ancient ever new

I've officially been reading C. S. Lewis for ten years now; not continuously, of course, but probably more than any other single author. Whenever I see a picture (and environs) of this man from whom I have probably learned more than from any other, I'm filled with longing.  I long for the days when I first read him, when I first discovered this fresh brilliance, this teacher who relieved all my anxieties, this boon companion.  I see in him everything that I should truly long to be in this life, as a man and as an intellect, if only it were my destiny.  I am also filled with longing for my youth, for those few years in my adolescence when I was closer to God than I had ever been before, or have ever been since.

I don't suppose it's coincidental that Lewis himself was The Doctor of Sehnsucht.  It's a subject that comes up often in his writing; and his autobiography, Surprised by Joy, is all about it, that which had haunted him his entire life.

I'm quite excited that this Autumn, Cambridge (Canto Series) is re-printing Lewis's greatest literary study:  The Allegory of Love:  A Study in Medieval Tradition.  Also:  Image and Imagination:  Essays and Reviews (also Canto), a collection of never previously published works. Hooah!

Thursday, September 26, 2013


However slowly, I've been reading The Maltese Falcon again, and I just finished the Flitcraft Parable.  I'm reminded that Flitcraft's disappearance was not the principal, or not the only, reason that I identified with him, as a personal fantasy.  The very non-fantastical part I identified with was the heart of the story:  a beam falling from several stories hit the sidewalk just next to him on his way to lunch.  He felt like somebody "took the lid off life and let him look at the works."  Furthermore, the part of tale that Spade "always liked":  "He adjusted himself to beams falling.  And then no more of them fell.  Then adjusted himself to them not falling."  It is this brush with death, the awareness of one's own mortality, that resonates with me.  One takes life for granted until something that can kill you reminds you that you can die at any moment, and you "adjust" yourself to this awareness.  But the reminders aren't perpetual, so you go back to your default perspective and forget your mortality.  I think I've always found Hammett a soulmate because he was tubercular; that is, he lived with an illness.  Indeed, the reason he began writing as a career was because, around the age of 30, he knew writing was something he always wanted to do and he didn't expect to live much longer, certainly not well into his 50's as he did.  I certainly feel reckless in that I do not often enough take heed of Hammett's lesson.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Mathematical Approach

Below are the very first paragraphs of Robert Sokolowski's Introduction to Phenomenology.  What follows is, I believe, a critical distinction, and should probably explain why I personally take a non-academic approach to philosophy. Academic philosophy is inveterately "scholarly"; it seems to take the approach of a legal proceeding 90% of the time (actually, all the humanities seem to proceed this way, and certainly the so-called "human sciences").

"[A professor of mathematics and philosophy, Gian-Carlo] Rota had often drawn attention to a difference between mathematicians and philosophers. Mathematicians, he said, tend to absorb the writings of their predecessors directly into their own work. They do not comment on the writings of earlier mathematicians, even if they have been very much influenced by them. They simply make use of the material that they find in the authors they read. When advances are made in mathematics, later thinkers condense the findings and move on. Few mathematicians study works from past centuries; compared with contemporary mathematics, such older writings seem to them almost like the work of children.

"In philosophy, by contrast, classical works often become enshrined as objects of exegesis rather than resources to be exploited. Philosophers, Rota observed, tend not to ask, 'Where do we go from here?' Instead, they inform us about the doctrines of major thinkers. They are prone to comment on earlier works rather than paraphrase them. Rota acknowledged the value of commentaries but thought that philosophers ought to do more. Besides offering exposition, they should abridge earlier writings and directly address issues, speaking in their own voice and incorporating into their own work what their predecessors have done. They should extract as well as annotate."

A is A, and Truth is Truth; thus just as all mathematical truths are public, available to all, so should all philosophical truths be. The big difference, of course, and the place where philosophers get stuck, is that truth is "located" in propositions, and propositions are composed of words. And all the disputes among philosophers derive from disagreements over the meanings of words. Math doesn't have this problem because numbers are invariable; every number is identical to itself. Academic philosophy is, as I said, inveterately "scholarly" because the academician has tons of ground to cover about the philosopher(s) they're following before they can make their own case; they have to establish that, say, Aristotle in fact "meant" X rather than Y, before they can go on and proceed to "move forward." Though I am by no means fond of Logical Positivism, I can sympathize a great deal with the idea that in order for philosophy to proceed, the question of "various meanings" has to be excluded, that one needs the clarity in logical terms that one has in numerical terms. Ultimately, since words/terms are based on concepts which are in turn based on fact/reality, they do have a manifold of meanings, because reality is, as C. S. Lewis once put it, knobbly and complicated. Husserl's a priori of every object having a subject-relative pole for each subject (i.e., each person) makes matters even more complex because the activity of consciousness is even more complex than the object one is conscious-of. I think a metaphysical realism is the only way to achieve the kind of "progress" that Rota spoke of. The question of what something "means" will go on infinitely if it doesn't eventually reach an absolute ground of being-in-itself; our meanings, in other words, have to be based on beings, and thus we must strive to reach a meaning which is objective. If there can be no agreement as to meaning, no "progress" can ever be made; and if agreements of meaning are not founded on real objects, they are, as it were, meaningless. This, I take it, is the objection of Postmodernism, viz. that since we can't access things-in-themselves, we can never achieve objective truth and thus no progress of any kind will be possible. This is more or less the contrary to the Logical Positivist. The latter excludes meaning from the outset, and the Postmodernist says the meanings are infinite. What they both have in common is that they each think objective meanings are impossible. But each position is untenable because each of them rely on statements of their case which are formulated in terms that have meanings which they take to be communicable, and to achieve communication requires both parties appealing to standards which they both agree upon.  If meanings are arbitrary or factitious, they should never have been able to tell one another why or how they disapprove of one another.  Logical and metaphysical realism -- i.e., truth is found in propositions consisting of terms founded on concepts which are teleologically oriented to objective entities -- is the aurea mediocritas of the deficiency of Positivism and the excess of Relativism, and the only way to proceed philosophically.

Monday, September 16, 2013

a lost article

Recently I posted here a bit of praise for Robert Sokolowski's Introduction to Phenomenology, which I'd been re-reading for the first time in a few years.  It was a good little piece, but unfortunately I deleted it.  I deleted it because, for a few hours, I was feeling ambivalent toward phenomenology and thought "to hell with it."  But then I got back to the book and wished I hadn't deleted it.

The core of this reflection was that I took this book to be the definitive statement on phenomenology.  Regardless of Husserl and his followers, and regardless of the other works Sokolowski has written, I find the Introduction to be a magnum opus, and the only "version" of phenomenology that I find acceptable.  I also made a point concerning the pun on the terms "introduction" and "phenomenology."  I said that phenomenology is a state of mind:  the so-called phenomenological attitude is phenomenology per se.  And every time one engages the phenomenological "reduction," one engages in an introduction to -- a "leading-in" to -- phenomenology.  This is fitting, I think, because phenomenology is largely -- as Merleau-Ponty put it -- re-learning to look at the world.  The philosophical epoché always consists in starting from scratch, a return to the things themselves, a statement with Socrates that "all I know is that I do not know."  I spoke of the Introduction in this way because I thought such a title might be misleading to an outsider, who might consider this book the first in a long line of books on phenomenology.  But it is a unique gem, which stands alone -- like Chesterton's Orthodoxy or Pieper's Leisure -- as something to be read again and again.  Just as St. Thomas called the Summa Theologiae "for beginners", even though it is considered the treatise on theology, so do I consider Sokolowski's book a Summa Phenomenologiae -- it is, for me, the statement and treatise on phenomenology.  It's holism, applicability to life and to thought, is unparalleled (so far as my own researches have led me to conclude).

Perhaps someday I will be able to restate entire this reflection which I have stupidly deleted...

Friday, September 6, 2013

"to delight in the praise for its own sake..."

For some reason I've been getting a lot of kind, flattering, humbling feedback from fellow students in the course I'm taking on the Holy Trinity.  I think that this total stranger's response represents one of the few moments in my life I've felt understood.

[my original post]
Agere sequitur esse. This famous scholastic dictum encapsulates the point at issue in "I, Q'.s 4-6" [of St. Thomas's Summa Theologiae]. What a thing does (agere) is a "second act" which follows upon what a thing is (esse), it's "first act." Since God is ipsum esse, being simply, everything He does is one with what, or that, He Is. Whatever good a person -- or any created substance -- achieves, however, is resultant upon its act of being, and can fall short of goodness or perfection. Formality and Goodness, while separated in rational analysis, are in Nature, as in God, not separated -- are, in fact, synonymous. Ideally, every thing, by being what it is (form), achieves its perfection (goal). God -- Existence per se  -- is fully actual, and existing beings participate in His primordial existing, but analogously, namely by the limitation of individual essence, which is separated out by matter. Humanity in particular -- because it is Fallen and possessing free will -- falls short of its own perfection, lacks full participation in the human essence (human "being"), what humanity is created to be (but that leads to another issue). And even in Nature, which is composed of creatures subject to generation and corruption, we find beings which fall short of their essence, especially in the phenomenon of death or in the process of decay. Since in God there is no distinction between His attributes and His existence -- and since we are certain of His existence by the proofs -- we can equally be certain of His goodness and His perfection.

[stranger's reply]
 Trevor I heard your voice in my head as I read. We were in a stone church classroom, candles lighting up the stone walls with years of soot rising up the walls. The fire was cracking but not irritatingly, and one would notice the graphics on the high walls for ancient councils in which the archbishop was called to attend. You were reading from a stool, one leg over the other, and holding a pipe in one hand. In the other was a book, a brief and concise analysis of the Summa to which you narrated quite well. Your fingers broke the spine of the book and simultaneously help open the pages flat, neat and open enough to read line to line, edge to edge.

Monday, July 1, 2013


I began looking through an intellectual journal I kept circa eight years ago.  It's funny how many things one has moved past, resolved problems; yet in how many other cases one is surprised that such things written there are wiser than one feels at present.  Orson Welles said that he began his theatrical career at the age of 16 in Dublin, almost by accident.  He claimed that he was more famous in Dublin than he ever became subsequently.  "I started at the top, and have been working my way down ever since."  I often feel that way.  In many ways (and I think some of my old friends, who knew me then as well as now, would agree), I had far more wisdom when I was 17 than I do now.  Most days now my mind feels like a labyrinth of mere facts and confusion.  I think I can account for such a digression, however:  back then, I had some small degree of moral courage and asceticism.  I had discipline.  Asceticism and sacrifice are necessary for any kind of coherent psychological and/or spiritual progression.  But alas my recent years, though filled with books and art, have also been filled with rampant self-indulgence, and this has clouded my reason in more ways than I can even be aware of.  I know what I have to do to make amends, but to do that would require my lost moral courage.  This is why surrender to the Creator is the only way out of the labyrinth, for He is outside the maze and within the mind and is hindered by neither.  Only He can see all the angles and all the circuitous routes toward redemption, by any definition, because He alone has no need of redemption and only the strong can help the weak.

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Tolkien Safety-valve

Usually during the cold months of every year I find myself yearning for a literary experience of, shall we say, Northernness.  I would always try Norse, viz. Icelandic, sagas and the like, but could never quite find my way in.  Subsequently I would live vicariously off of C. S. Lewis's love of this literature and his recounting of it in his autobiography Surprised by Joy.  Recently, however, I've finally discovered the majesty and mythopoeic grandeur of J. R. R. Tolkien.  And I am not talking about The Lord of the Rings.  Of all his works (save The Hobbit), I like the Rings the least. 

No, my haunts are among the Elves; tales of the Valar and Eldar in the Elder Days:  The Silmarillion is chief among these works.  And now that I have spent the last few months getting a good synoptic view of Tolkien's work, I can now lay it aside and return to my usual reading with a sense of rest, knowing that, when the "bug" for Elves, Lore, Bitter Cold and Glorious Battle assails me, I know precisely who to turn to, Old Tollers, and no other.

The same sort of process of discovery accompanies my history with all my favorite authors.  They all, in their way, serve as what I call Safety Valves.  When a certain fit for violence and the mean streets and the 1920's comes upon me, I have Dashiell Hammett.  For poetry and the meditation of the degeneration of our modern epoch, I have T. S. Eliot.  There was always one "valve" missing, for several years, and now I have finally found it in Tolkien.