Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Sketchy opinions of a Catholic anarchist

Much as one might have loathed them during and after, when we were teenagers, we had the Youth Groups. Out of the latter grew the various ministries which, once Confirmed, we had the right — nay, the duty — to participate in. More than anything, there was a social framework, outside of, but (presumably) centered around, the Mass. This “community of Christians” became, for many, the very reason to show up for several hours every Sunday, and sometimes even during the week; for many, the Catholic youth community was a refuge from the pangs of adolescence and the social farce of public school life. There is no great loss in the fact that most young minds cannot perceive that they were missing the bigger point, namely the Eucharist. As C. S. Lewis pointed out, next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor — specially your Christian neighbor — is the holiest thing that can be presented to your senses in this life.

Something that the Youth Groups never prepared you for, however, was What To Do after high school graduation. Some friends become enemies, some enemies become friends; some people (often accidentally) have children and get married before the age of 23; others move away, even out of state, to go to college; many move away simply and solely to move away. There are a variety of dividing tactics which (I believe) the Dark One employs at this part of our lives. The bottom line is that the security of a “faith community” that had been built up over several years is promptly obliterated. And since so many at this age based their “faith life” on their “faith community” — and to re-build a new one would require all the work involved in meeting a host of new people that one gets on with fairly well, and to balance this with all the other concerns that come with “growing up” — many will backslide, and the Church becomes an afterthought. “Church” quickly comes to mean “the place one ought to have been last Sunday.” And so it goes, or might go, for several years.

In my early-20s, I encountered a few organizations that tried to do for “young adults” what the Youth Groups did for us as teenagers. But rather than getting into more serious, adult issues of faith, these groups tended to remain at the intellectual level of a 15-year-old. They seemed simply to say, “What we had a few years ago — it doesn’t have to go away! And this time around we get to go out for beer and hotwings!” The only way such assemblies “progress” is by the addition of alcohol and the occasional tryst (which will promptly be confessed by Saturday). The only “progression” is, in fact, toward newfound secular freedoms, predicated on a religious context: not religious progress. This is not to say that there are no sincere efforts on the leaders of such groups, nor that one may not find members who make the most of what they can get. My point, however, is that they shouldn’t have to make the most of anything: the “most” should already be there, and they should be the recipients of it — just as the Church as a whole is “already there.” What began in the “youth groups” ought to continue into adulthood, the former being the foundation for something more complex — spiritually, theologically, and communally — that would come later. Yet for this to happen, the original “faith community” should have had to remain together, and so continue to grow together. But this does not — perhaps can not — happen. One might chalk it up to the very mobile nature of the contemporary world. No one has any roots anymore. Gone are the days of knowing and living in, for one’s whole life, the same neighborhood as the people one grew up with. Had people stayed put in the first place, we shouldn’t have even needed the “youth groups”: from the outset our Catholicism would simply have been part — indeed the very centerpiece — of our local culture.

My objective here is not to suggest a solution to this pathology, but to call to mind that such a pathology does, in fact, exist. Regardless of the diagnosis, I don’t believe, such as the world is today, that the prognosis is very good. And I certainly don’t believe there is a cure, not unless there were a veritable revolution in public mores. Public mores, however, are informed by religious mores — and our religious mores are weak. Furthermore, they are under constant assault by ideologues of many stripes (often on the basis of the erroneous and backward assumption that the First Amendment was written to keep religion out of public life). Perhaps sanity can be restored, but I personally am of the opinion that the world we have built needs be burned to the ground, the pig fully eviscerated, before the proper foundations can once again be laid.

At this point, I would like to reply to a possible objection raised by the language which I have just used. This objection was brought to my attention by a friend of mine, a Monsignor, with whom I discussed this problem. He pointed out that, while he appreciated my “inclination toward an anarchistic remedy for all that ails us,” nonetheless “burning the house down kills people as well as all those things that afflict them”; furthermore, “their successors would also be born with the affliction of Original Sin and its consequences.” There is of course great wisdom and truth in this point, but I think it betrays a misunderstanding in what I have said. Thus I shall use it to clarify my wider political theory. This is not (so far as I know) church doctrine; it is solely my preliminary, “sketchy” theory about the possibility of a peace which, I think, should follow upon the coexistence of Catholicism and anarchism.

Now, first of all, I would like to make perfectly clear that I am not proposing an “anarchistic remedy,” if by “anarchy” we mean, so to speak, a Bolshevik Solution. One needn’t define anarchy as anything other than what its Latin word-parts suggest, viz., the absence of government; and that absence needn’t mean destruction nor chaos. The French Revolution — the origin of Liberalism, and, by circuitous routes, all our modern “ideologies” — was indeed a “burning to the ground” which was merely to replace one government with another. “Revolution” is frequently a misnomer. Historically, so-called revolutions have a curious way of not “reverting back” to anything that was previous and/or preferable: more often they are devolutions. As to anarchism, my own view is that an anarchistic society — more properly: anarchistic societies — could enjoy more religious and civil freedom than anyone has known for a long time, if people but had the courage to abandon government and defend their own natural rights. The Constitution of the United States of America is, however, an ingenious compromise between the extremes of anarchy and the contemporary omnipresent State, if only our government would follow it. If government in the U.S. would but restrict itself to doing solely what the Constitution says it can do and nothing more, we might enjoy all the freedoms one could ask for in this life. As it stands, however, our government seems to far exceed its originary, Constitutional mandate. To scrap the current regime — that endlessly complex federation of bureaucracies and bylaws — to return to a pure and commonsense execution of the Constitution just as it was written: that would be a true revolution, a “going back.”

This proposal, nevertheless, presents us with yet another pathology in want of a cure. It is difficult to see how, in our Nuclear Epoch, such rejuvenation would be possible. The bureaucratic complexity of our world has ensured that any kind of re-simplification would result in serious threats to our safety, namely, from foreign enemies, and certainly, due to our modern money system, an economic disaster. We are locked in a cultural and socio-political vice by the very edifice of modernity.

Another point I would like to clarify about my so-called “anarchistic solution.” I did not mean to suggest that we ought to rally and “burn it all down” ourselves. What I meant to imply was that the possibility of a solution might only come about if (or when) the Nations do indeed destroy themselves; as, for example, in nuclear fire or economic collapse. What remained of humanity, being thus able to start from scratch, as it were, might then work toward a truly purged civil society. The Church, incidentally, by necessity of Her “mandate,” would remain the last standing authority — the only non-factitious authority on Earth, and therefore one worth following — and the people might see that She provides all the “governance” we really require on any large scale: a “bureaucracy” whose only purpose is the salvation of Man. As for the “small” scale, each community could choose their own ways and means of living: and that is all that “anarchy” means. As for the original pathology, I don’t think the problem of “youth groups” or “young adults” would come up in the peace of a Catholic anarchy.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Pearce quotes Flitcraft

The great Catholic biographer and literary scholar Joseph Pearce recently quoted little old me in an article at The Imaginative Conservative.  How funny.  My comment is the third from the top:

Chesterton & Eliot: Friends or Enemies?


Monday, September 29, 2014

Philosophical Anarchism in a Nutshell

"The defining mark of the state is authority, the right to rule. The primary obligation of man is autonomy, the refusal to be ruled. It would seem, then, that there can be no resolution of the conflict between the autonomy of the individual and the putative authority of the state. Insofar as a man fulfills his obligation to make himself the author of his decisions, he will resist the state's claim to have authority over him. That is to say, he will deny that he has a duty to obey the laws of the state simply because they are the laws. In that sense, it would seem that anarchism is the only political doctrine consistent with the virtue of autonomy.

"Now, of course, an anarchist may grant the necessity of complying with the law under certain circumstances or for the time being. He may even doubt that there is any real prospect of eliminating the state as a human institution. But he will never view the commands of the state as legitimate, as having a binding moral force. In a sense, we might characterize the anarchist as a man without a country, for despite the ties which bind him to the land of his childhood, he stands in precisely the same moral relationship to 'his' government as he does to the government of any other country in which he might happen to be staying for a time. When I take a vacation in Great Britain, I obey its laws, both because of prudential self-interest and because of the obvious moral considerations concerning the value of order, the general good consequences of preserving a system of property, and so forth. On my return to the United States, I have a sense of reentering my country, and if I think about the matter at all, I imagine myself to stand in a different and more intimate relation to American laws. They have been promulgated by my government, and I therefore have a special obligation to obey them. But the anarchist tells me that my feeling is purely sentimental and has no objective moral basis. All authority is equally illegitimate, although of course not therefore equally worthy or unworthy of support, and my obedience to American laws, if I am to be morally autonomous, must proceed from the same considerations which determine me abroad.

"The dilemma which we have posed can be succinctly expressed in terms of the concept of a de jure state. If all men have a continuing obligation to achieve the highest degree of autonomy possible, then there would appear to be no state whose subjects have a moral obligation to obey its commands. Hence, the concept of a de jure legitimate state would appear to be vacuous, and philosophical anarchism would seem to be the only reasonable political belief for an enlightened man."

—Robert Paul Wolff
In Defense of Anarchism, "Conflict Between Authority & Autonomy"


Saturday, September 27, 2014

I think I might actually like this place better than Medium. I find Medium to be kind of pretentious. If I can't stomach it much longer there I'm going to spruce this place up a bit (actually, a lot) and reboot it. (Plus, you can't make any money at Medium whereas here you can eventually earn some passive income using Google AdSense.)

Monday, September 15, 2014

a surface scratched

I am here but scratching the surface of my 'philosophy of education'. Those who know where I'm coming from, will understand. Those who don't, probably never will, though I am open to expounding further should I receive the unlikely request to clarify further.

C. S. Lewis once pointed out (even in the 1950s!) that the contemporary system of education (including the university) is systematically designed to weed out the types of people that, in ages past, were the only people who were commonly accepted in to higher education to begin with.  He said, e.g., a Wordsworth would have been detected, discouraged, and ultimately discarded as early as possible.  All of this, of course, follows upon the 'democratization' of modern civilization; regardless of the motivational posters one sees on classroom walls, the truth is that Excellence is frowned upon. Contemporary Western education wants people who Play By The Rules to 'make it' in higher education (an old professor of mine called such as these [e.g. nearly all his graduate students] "Grinders").  This System in fact wants to validate all those many thousands of students who don't really need to receive formal education in the first place.  Probably the most popular 'case study' of this type situation is Albert Einstein. I think perhaps that in the popular imagination the moral of his story is misunderstood; people ought to conclude that perhaps schools need to be altered such that our Einsteins might flourish in them, rather than singling him out as a totally unique case (not that he was not a genius beyond reckoning).  I think one of the reasons, for instance, that people of my own Myers-Briggs/Keirsey "personality type" (INTP; Einstein, by the by, is frequently cited as the Archetype of this personality) aren't particularly suited to contemporary academia is that the latter is dominated by that oh-so-bureaucratic Extraverted Thinking function, and INTP's dominant Introverted Thinking is so often violently opposed to this kind of systematization and (even worse) authoritarianism.

My personal opinion is that 'schools' ought to be sort of like, if you will, Intellectual Monasteries; consider, e.g., the Sicilian Pythagoreans, Plato's Academy, Aristotle's Lyceum, or even the circa 13th-century University of Paris -- this is how education/schools/universities ought to be.  And on such models it would follow that education (perish the thought!) is not for everyone.  The ancient Greek term σχολή -- and its Latin equivalent
schola -- from which we derive the term 'school' meant Leisure (Latin Otium, as opposed to Negotium, i.e. worldly-affairs, business):  a life of free inquiry. This, indeed, is where our term Liberal Arts (artes liberales, associated with Otium / Leisure) derives from. The latter used to be juxtaposed to the Servile Arts (artes serviles, associated with Negotium / Business), which focused on more 'practical' matters, providing goods and services necessary for material and/or daily living. This modern notion that one needs a BA to "get a good job" is a complete non sequitur; education should not be seen as a 'preparation for the workforce'. Knowledge (scientia) is, or ought to be, an end in and for itself, and Education with a capital-E ought to be set up so as to accommodate that fact.  

Incidentally, the theory of personality as per Myers-Briggs, Keirsey, etc., could very well serve as grounds (however 'theoretical') for making the case for a return to more classical forms of education.  Consider:  does an ISFP artist really need to learn about the sciences? does an ENTJ inheriting a 'family business' really need to know anything about the Humanities?  I say if it's a life of work that you desire, just go work. Education ought to be for those whose priorities lie within the Life of the Mind.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Thursday, September 11, 2014

de amicitia

"When either Affection or Eros is one's theme, one finds a prepared audience. The importance and beauty of both have been stressed and almost exaggerated again and again. Even those who would debunk them are in conscious reaction against this laudatory tradition and, to that extent, influenced by it. But very few modern people think Friendship a love of comparable value or even a love at all. I cannot remember that any poem since [Alfred, Lord Tennyson's] In Memoriam, or any novel, has celebrated it. Tristan and Isolde, Antony and Cleopatra, Romeo and Juliet, have innumerable counterparts in modern literature: David and Jonathan, Pylades and Orestes, Roland and Oliver, Amis and Amile, have not. To the Ancients, Friendship seemed the happiest and most fully human of all loves; the crown of life and the school of virtue. The modern world, in comparison, ignores it. We admit of course that besides a wife and family a man needs a few 'friends'. But the very tone of the admission, and the sort of acquaintanceships which those who make it would describe as 'friendships', show clearly that what they are talking about has very little to do with that Philia which Aristotle classified among the virtues or that Amicitia on which Cicero wrote a book. It is something quite marginal; not a main course in life's banquet; a diversion; something that fills up the chinks of one's time....

"...few value it because few experience it. And the possibility of going through life without the experience is rooted in that fact which separates Friendship so sharply from both the other loves. Friendship is -- in a sense not at all derogatory to it -- the least natural of loves; the least instinctive, organic, biological, gregarious and necessary. It has least commerce with our nerves; there is nothing that quickens the pulse or turns you red and pale. It is essentially between individuals; the moment two men are friends they have in some degree drawn apart together from the herd. Without Eros none of us would have been begotten and without Affection none of us would have been reared; but we can live and breed without Friendship. The species, biologically considered, has no need of it. The pack or herd -- the community -- may even dislike and distrust it. Its leaders very often do. Headmasters and Headmistresses and Heads of religious communities, colonels and ships' captains, can feel uneasy when close and strong friendships arise between little knots of their subjects.

"This (so to call it) 'non-natural' quality of Friendship goes far to explain why it was exalted in ancient and medieval times and has come to be made light of in our own. The deepest and most permanent thought of those ages was ascetic and world-renouncing. Nature and emotion and the body were feared as dangers to our souls, or despised as degradations of our human status. Inevitably that sort of love was most prized which seemed most independent, or even defiant, of mere nature. Affection and Eros were too obviously connected with our nerves, too obviously shared with the brutes. You could feel these tugging at your guts and fluttering in your diaphragm. But in Friendship -- in that luminous, tranquil, rational world of relationships freely chosen -- you got away from all that. This alone, of all the loves, seemed to raise you to the level of gods or angels."

+ C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves (1960)


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Eliot Rip-off

Probably more than anything else I've written, this is a total rip-off of
T. S. Eliot; cf. The Hollow Men. But here it is nonetheless. The ideas I intend to re-appropriate somewhere else, so it goes without saying this is a 'rough draft'.

God, and Love, and Death.
That’s all’s been sung in ages past—
God, and Love, and Death.
But now, in this forlorn land,
Nothing’s sung but Death.

City song
Death song
Chants of this forlorn land

No more cries chivalric
which were cries of
God, and Love, and Death—
rolled in to one,
distinct but not separate,
one organ, one act—
Battle cries of God, and Love, and Death.

City poem
Death poem
Croaking in this forlorn land


Sunday, September 7, 2014

more anti-novel(ist) thoughts...

[cf. "lines & tales", which I wrote a while back]

I think perhaps one of the reasons I don't much care for the average "novel," nor have much interest in writing them as opposed to other literary forms, is the superabundance of characters. If you're a reader you know that very many novels not only have more than one protagonist and more than one antagonist, but as many "sub-plots" associated with as many characters. In reading, I have no taste for this. I often find it makes thrilling cinema (big screen and small), but as reading I find it completely uninteresting. I suppose I am simply less interested in characters as a writer, same as I am less interested in people in real life. I am by far more intrigued with ideas. I don't mind a novel with a single protagonist, speaking in the first person, who is the only person whose head one gets in to; for I suppose it is (as in reading philosophy) studying this character's mind. But even then, if I have no taste for the narrator's personality or narrative style (just as I am not interested in the overwhelming majority of philosophers), I'm not very likely to read his tale. Again, I seem to be as picky about fictional personages as I am about real ones. (Actually, believe it or not, I'm far more tolerant of real persons than fictional ones. The point really is I simply don't want to read about them. Reading is to me a sacred act and art, so I'm very pedantic about it.) I do enjoy the sort of "fictional monograph"-style of H. P. Lovecraft; with the exception of a few tales by Poe and Borges, Lovecraft seems to be the only person who made use of it, at least so extensively. And in his case, of course, it was always more about the conveyance of an idea and an atmosphere than it was about character. I do, nonetheless, hold to the theory that "plot" is founded upon "character": the things that happen in a story (plot) are the result of the actions of people, and those actions are founded upon who/what those people "Are" (character). Indeed, I think that the best way to unveil character is by the "Show, don't tell"-principle: a character ought to be the "mystery" of the story, and should be, as it were, "known by his fruits": the author ought to reveal the personality and philosophy of a character by depiction of that character's actions. The latter was, of course, epitomized by the great Dashiell Hammett's penultimate novel, The Glass Key.  And (shamelessly adapting a famous phrase from D.H.'s antepenultimate novel) "There's only one glass key."

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Johnnie Orson

I noticed I hadn't posted my Johnnie Orson playlist in a couple years, so here I again post it, in all its unvarnished demo-quality glory...
 

ComScore

On being a jerk...

When I meet someone new or become reacquainted with someone old, I usually warn them, "A lot of people seem to think I'm a bastard.  It's true: I can be a jerk."  And then I'm met with the rejoinder, "Aw, no! You're not a jerk! Anyone who'd say that is an asshole anyway."  But then, eventually, the awful truth becomes apparent.  It never ceases to amaze me how, in spite of all my warnings, they appear completely shocked by this fact. I warned you, did I not? I wanted to make it abundantly clear from the outset, so that you wouldn't be surprised when it finally dawned upon you. Still, you are shocked, outraged, disappointed. So what the hell am I to do? I can't do anything but issue the warning. If the sign in the window says "Beware of Dog," do you then break, enter, yet remain astonished when you get bit? In any case, all the best people (in my opinion) are made of lead, ice, or some other variety of "hard" stuff. Either that, or they are the type that is simply intrigued by the study of caustic character, and if my intra-personal nature has shown me anything, it's that I'm as fascinated by other people's psychoanalysis of me as I am.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

percepts

I think that when people say "perception is everything" they're wrong on two counts: (1) they use "perception" as though it were synonymous with "perspective"; and (2) "perspective" is not everything. So lets get this straight: "perception" only happens if you "perceive" some thing; i.e., you can't "perceive" something that is not real. If you see something one way on Monday, and then another way on Tuesday, it's not your perception that has changed, it's your "perspective" that has changed. But your "perception" remains the same, unless the object itself has changed in some way between Monday and Tuesday. Perception is objective, perspective is subjective: what you see is perceptual, how you see it is perspectival.  You cannot "perceive" something unless it exists. So indeed "perception" is, in many ways, "everything," but not if one conflates it with "perspective." And "perspective" is most definitely not everything: there are far more important things involved in the act of perception than my perspective of the perceived.

[If I were going to use phenomenological language, I should use the term "profile" instead of "perspective." Likewise, by this vocabulary, I'd speak of this as a conflation between the perception of object-X, and my profile -- i.e., my temporal subjective intending -- of object-X.]

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Lost Embrace

Embrace which once was profound solace
Hast turned from respite in to spite;
Body from which I now recoil
Wast once my only true delight.
But rhymes cannot attain
That night we walked, from lamp to lamp
Asphalt glowing under streetlight
Innocent as roaming children
Unstrickened by worlds of men and women
In a chill which held the hope of years.
I met you there,
That none might know the fathoms of my secret plight;
As even then I now desire,
But cannot give you back the night.
Time heals nothing, though space may rectify
The brutal callous of my thought.
Separately, in separate lives, one might justify the naught.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Dominance of Reason

"When the physical state of the brain dominates my thinking, it produces only disorder. But my brain does not become any less a brain when it is dominated by Reason: nor do my emotions and sensations. Reason saves and strengthens my whole system, psychological and physical, whereas that whole system, by rebelling against Reason, destroys both Reason and itself." + C. S. Lewis (Miracles: A Preliminary Study, p. 48)

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Disorganization Principle

It has come to my attention that the overwhelming majority of what I like to call those Big Bad Information Blogs [BBIB] are very "organized." There are tabs and links to previous posts and "hashtags" and dynamical interfaces which pile toolbar upon toolbar the further down the page you go.  Then there are those tiny blogs (this used to be one of them) that are simply "public" journals; a place where people write their thoughts and feelings about this or that, quite sporadically, most of them dying (the blogs, not the authors) after a few months' worth of posts.

I aim to avoid both extremes.  You will find BBIB content here; there will be some inter-linking and some intra-linking; I may even spruce the place up a bit at some point.  But you won't get BBIB style. The style remains that of the informal public journal, and not wholly unlike Medium (whose inventor, incidentally, also invented Blogger; cf. "Why We Built Medium").  I find this approach quite fitting because that is precisely how my mind works. Big thoughts run into little thoughts and back again; connections are made and conundrums simplified, but not without painstaking research. You won't find what you're looking for in one sitting, and you'll kick yourself when you realized you missed something at the last sitting.  To wit, to find what you're looking for, you're going to have to do a fair amount of "scrolling." And, let it be known, if you don't have to look deeply as well as widely, you can be sure that, whatever that world might be into which you venture, it is certainly not my own.

Besides, what good will I be, after I'm dead, to all those scholars -- with their sweater-vests and their iPhones -- if they have no tidying up and cataloging and annotating to do?  Should I, by my life's work, have to deprive them of theirs? Indeed, would the Husserl Archives be half so enticing if there wasn't all that clerk-work to do? new angles of thought or chronology to be plumbed? exciting and fresh material to be discovered, which happened to be hiding, under a bushel of dust, far at the back of one of those deep, venerable, ancient filing cabinets?

Friday, July 25, 2014

Modern Magick

It is an erroneous (but wildly popular) notion that "magic" was a superstition of the so-called Dark Ages and the Middle Ages, and that "technology" was the fruit of the Renaissance.  But the truth is that both magic (especially "alchemy") and technology were both Renaissance phenomena, and that both were trying to achieve the same goal, viz., the manipulation of Nature.  Obviously technology succeeded, and magic failed. But they were, as C. S. Lewis put it, "twins" from the beginning.

But suppose, if you will, that magic had won out.  What would the world look like?  My hunch is that the world would still look "medieval" or at least premodern. The Industrial Revolution would never have occurred; medicine, chemistry, physics, would all be unnecessary.  Everything one needed could be conjured by magic -- medicine, motion, production, construction, light and other electromagnetic phenomena. Architecture, I don't think, would look as it does today, because we should never have needed reinforced concrete; surely a "reinforcement spell" would be sufficient to buttress any edifice.  Our buildings might be labyrinthine, surpassing in wildness the most baroque of Gothic grandeur. Indeed, what need should we have of interstate highways if we could, by sheer will power, teleport, bi-locate, or even fly to our destination?

This is just a passing thought, or perhaps a premise for a story.  For instance, one could fictionalize an "alternative history" of the past 500 years if it had been magic, rather than technology, which became the instrument of our manipulation of matter.

Update 31 July 2014: So apparently someone already thought of this. There truly is "nothing new under the sun."  From the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction:

"But the purest example of 'Frazerian' sf is Randall Garrett's Lord Darcy series (January 1964-April 1979 var mags, chiefly Analog), set in an alternate world where King Richard I founded a stable Plantagenet dynasty, Europe remained feudal and Catholic, and magic was developed in harmony with science. The heroes are a detective pair, Lord Darcy and Master Sean O'Lochlainn, resembling Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson. Master Sean is not a doctor, however, but a sorcerer, and he plays a much more significant role than Dr Watson ever did, compensating for the absence of forensic science by a series of carefully described magical tests for murder weapons, times of death, chemical analysis and so on. It is not too much to say that the stories are vehicles for the explanations of Master Sean rather than for the adventures of Lord Darcy. Garrett's distinctive contributions lie in the range of new 'laws' added to the old Frazerian ones (Relevance, Synecdoche, Congruency, etc.) and in the rigour with which these are stated and used."

Thursday, July 24, 2014

On Reading Poems

I've been asked to give a "lesson" or "crash course" on reading poetry, and now that it's been brought to my attention, I think it might actually be one of those things that can't be taught!  But what I can do is offer a few protocols I happen to know of, some of which I follow, some of which I don't -- it all depends on the poem and why I'm reading it.
  • Think of the "speaker" of the poem as you would the "narrator" of a novel.  It's an error to read (or, some might argue, to write) poetry as though it comes straight from the poet's mind or heart or lips. This leads to my second point...
  • Let the poem stand on its own as a singular work of art, much as you would a modern painting. (Granted, when it comes to epic and/or narrative poetry, that's different.  My subject here is principally with lyric poetry.)  Who wrote it is a largely irrelevant and useless question when in the act of reading.
  • Just recently I thought that Quantum Theory can be a useful way of thinking about poems.  Think of the poem as a metaphor for an atom, and each line and word as a subatomic particle. Then consider that particles exhibit wavelike behavior and waves exhibit particlelike behavior, relative to what it is you happen to be looking for in a particular experiment. One could, e.g., say that the "meaning" of a poem is like an electron cloud of possible, even contradictory, observer/reader-relative  interpretations. Giving a particular interpretation or "reading" of a line is analogous to making a measurement in a lab. The upshot is that what the reader brings to the poem is going to have an effect on what the poem "means." Also, consider that how one interprets one line (or defines one word) will affect how other lines (or words) will be interpreted. I take the latter as a metaphor for quantum "entanglement," in which one of two electrons -- which had some kind of interaction in the past -- being acted upon in the present causes a change in the condition of the other electron, no matter how far apart they are currently (what Einstein famously called "spooky action at a distance"). Perhaps the strangest thing about "quantum strangeness" is its usefulness, metaphorically and analogically, for literary analysis. 
  • Phenomenology provides many useful conceptual tools.  Anyone who has familiarized themselves with the paradigms of identities in manifoldssides, aspects, and profiles; parts and wholes; and presence and absence in phenomenology ought to see how such types of analyses can aid in the comprehension of a poem.  In my experience, just about any philosophical system or "theorem" can offer a good interpretive apparatus for literature.  I once wrote an essay in which I appropriated Thomistic metaphysics to analyze John Donne's "The Good-Morrow"; I applied phenomenology to Andrew Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress" and Lord Tennyson's "The Lady of Shalott" [which you can read HERE]; I even used Einstein's special theory of relativity to explicate Shakespeare's Sonnet 116.  In some cases I used the philosophy to explain the poetry; in many cases I used the poetry to explain the philosophy. But in either case the endeavor is mutually illuminating to one's understanding of both the poem and the philosophy.
For people (like me) who are great fans of Objectivity, a word.  You probably think, "All of what I and so-and-so and my professor thinks is well enough.  But I want to know what the author thought."  I have great sympathy with this view, as it is one I used to hold. But the fact is that -- especially if the author is dead -- you're never going to know.  Even living authors seem to have a hard time explaining the genesis of their works.  But never fear:  there is an objective origin and meaning to the artefact, even if one cannot discover it.  If there were no originary impetus for the artefact, how could the artefact have been brought into existence?  Students of either theology or phenomenology (or, indeed, quantum theory) should be well aware that the identity or objectivity of a thing is in a dimension different from that which we have access to. What we have access to are manifolds of said identity. These "manifolds" (i.e. manifestations) do not comprise a relativism; if it were all just relative, there would be no grounds, in the first place, to interpret the poem at all. It is precisely because we have access to these manifolds that we are certain that the identity positively, objectively exists:  it is by means of the manifolds that the identity presents itself to us and for us, even if we are not able to grasp the identity in its "entirety."

Returning to "method", I think the most useful thing I ever learned regarding this subject I learned from my "principal" literature professor: Find a line or two that you think 'X' about; let's call this your hypothesis. Then, use the rest of the poem as data which will either prove or disprove your hypothesis -- a sort of Thought Experiment.  For me personally, I've found that one or two lines will "stand out" more than others; and I'll ruminate on these words and lines in my mind for some time, thinking about their implications, parallels to other things I'm thinking about, how they relate to the rest of the poem, etc.  If I'm lucky, I'll have an epiphany; there will be some insight that just ties it all together.  It is this last part, in fact, that made me say in the beginning that I don't know if this can be taught; i.e., I don't know if everyone can get these "epiphanies" or moments of intuitive clarity.  And, there again, there are a lot of other ways to read, most of which I'm not aware of. All of this has just been what was off the top of my head when presented with the problem.

Finally, I think that, as a reader, when it comes to poetry, interpretation is not an absolute necessity -- one might even call it a "last resort."  I believe the best poetry baffles, bends the mind, and takes countless readings to even begin to become intelligible. Poems that have what I call "the nuts" are essentially works of paradox and fluidity; they make me want to meditate, not write an essay.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Useless Art

"The artist is the creator of beautiful things. To reveal art and conceal the artist is art's aim. The critic is he who can translate into another manner or a new material his impression of beautiful things.

The highest as the lowest form of criticism is a mode of autobiography. Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming. This is a fault.

Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are the cultivated. For these there is hope. They are the elect to whom beautiful things mean only beauty.

There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.

The nineteenth century dislike of realism is the rage of Caliban seeing his own face in a glass.

The nineteenth century dislike of romanticism is the rage of Caliban not seeing his own face in a glass. The moral life of man forms part of the subject-matter of the artist, but the morality of art consists in the perfect use of an imperfect medium. No artist desires to prove anything. Even things that are true can be proved. No artist has ethical sympathies. An ethical sympathy in an artist is an unpardonable mannerism of style. No artist is ever morbid. The artist can express everything. Thought and language are to the artist instruments of an art. Vice and virtue are to the artist materials for an art. From the point of view of form, the type of all the arts is the art of the musician. From the point of view of feeling, the actor's craft is the type. All art is at once surface and symbol. Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril. Those who read the symbol do so at their peril. It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors. Diversity of opinion about a work of art shows that the work is new, complex, and vital. When critics disagree, the artist is in accord with himself. We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it. The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely.

All art is quite useless."


+ Oscar Wilde (Preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray)


Sunday, July 6, 2014

Jung the Antichrist

I just finished an intriguing expository and critique of C. G. Jung by the eminent scientist-metaphysician Wolfgang Smith.  He doesn't say it straightforwardly, but implies vigorously that Jung is the Antichirst (or at least one of them).  He essentially shows how Jung set himself up as a messianic figure and how so many people -- even orthodoxly religious people, like Catholic priests, who ought to know better -- see the Swiss psychiatrist as the guru he claimed to be.

I think the one positive contribution which Jung made was his theory of personality. But even this was only preliminary sketches; e.g., he set up several of the categories of psychological "functions" which may be either introverted or extroverted, such as "introverted intuition" and "extroverted intuition," "introverted feeling" and "extroverted feeling." But the real credit in personality theory goes to Jung only as a pioneer, and the likes of Myers-Briggs and Keirsey as the true systematizers. Furthermore, personality theory goes back to the likes of Empedocles and Plato.  (For what I take to be a highly reliable presentation of personality theory, cf. the blog of A. J. Drenth, Personality Junkie.)

As for psychiatry, I think the point should be made that Freud and Jung have no scientific basis for their psychotherapies.  A lot of people balk at psychopharmacology, but the fact is that Prozac and Lexapro have claims to psychiatric legitimacy that Freud and Jung do not; the latter cannot prove their theories, and the former have proven their therapeutic value.  The one form of "talk" therapy, nonetheless, which can boast a remarkable scientific grounding is the Cognitive Therapy of Beck and Ellis.  Probably the optimal form of psychiatric care comes from a combination of psychopharmacology and cognitive therapy.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Concerning Magic

As a literary landscape, notions like "magic" and "witchcraft" and "occult" have a great use.  But these things considered as a realm of serious inquiry is quite horrifying.  What makes horror stories horrific is precisely the fact that, within the fictional realm of the story, these things are taken by the characters to be Real; the charm of the macabre can only exist for one who sees in it only fantasy or superstition.  I will read a tale about a witch with fascination:  I will not read a manual written by a witch.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Beauty Inebriating Reality

Courtesy of the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine, I have been reading from my old blog (late-'03-'04). I just now found a poem I wrote in May 2001, a few days after my high school graduation.  I remember the moment I wrote it pretty well; it was shortly after the last of my out-of-town relatives left here, who'd come in town for the Big Party.  It definitely represents the emotions I was going through at the time: the changes which were to ensue given the fact of graduation; the frustration of making a huge "to-do" about the graduation, which was, frankly, an excuse for everybody to have a family reunion (i.e., I was the poster-boy for something which wasn't really about me but about them -- if I'd had my way, I wouldn't have walked at graduation, and I wouldn't have had a party); and I'm sure there were other things on my mind at the time, but the hitherto reasons were most certainly present in the mix. This was posted on the Old Blog, Catharsis, on 18 Sept 2003.  I have, just now, made a couple edits, but the substance remains the same.  It is admittedly a work of adolescent amateurdom, but I stand by it just the same.
__________________________________________________________

"Beauty Inebriating Reality"

Nostalgia over an event that never occurred;
Homesickness for a home that never was.
Music is a soundtrack to a movie reeling in my mind;
A 1980's melodrama starring your favorite actor when first starting out.

And the theme makes me feel thus:
"Driving home at dusk,
I realize how I long for last summer with her."
Then I remember that there is no such thing as summer;
Only Spring, Fall, and Winter—
long, cold winter.
And she was never there; it was always my imagination
Making life more interesting.

It seems then that I write songs about other people's lives;
I borrow their hearts for a moment;
And yet, they are more so my life than anything else:
A continuous oxymoronic paradox—
Or perhaps it is an ignorant paradise.

Life is an endless circle of events that never occur;
An ongoing daydream of mellow colors coming out through my fingertips.

And it is strange: if I had you, I would most likely forget what life is;
The song would be over,
The credits roll, the curtains drop,
The sun will set,
Existence cease:
For all that Romance is not located in possession, but in Desire.

Punks and Poets sit drinking coffee,
Discussing the demise of one who sought true love over
Glory and fame—
And the blissful dagger in my heart spills joy all around . . .

The thought of never experiencing what we all love the most.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Thursday, May 15, 2014

James Ellroy on Dashiell Hammett

"Ridiculous coincidence and buffoonish contrivance cohere behind its force. Hammett's male-speak is the gab of the grift, the scam, the dime hustle. It's the poke, the probe, the veiled query, the grab for advantage. It's the threat, the dim sanction, the offer of friendship cloaked in betrayal. Plot holes pop through Hammett's stories like speed bumps. The body count accretes with no more horror than pratfalls in farce. It doesn't matter. The language is always there. The talk is richly textured and more than richly male, and the counterbalance renders it all real.

"It's the language of suspicion, alienation, and the big grasp for survival. It's a constant jolt of physical movement and conversation. Hammett's heroes move and talk, move and talk, move and talk. They are professional followers, entrappers, and interlocutors. They flourish in a context of continuous mendacity. They pride themselves on their lie-detection prowess. They go at professional liars with great zeal and find their own dissembling skills in no way disconcerting. It is a harrowing workday context. They have placed themselves in it consciously. It's an antidote to the squarejohn life and a daily gauntlet of stimulation. Hammett's workday men risk peril for trifling remuneration and never question the choice. They are lab rats in perpetual reaction to stimuli. They are ascetics tamping down emotional turbulence and willing it flatlined in the name of the job. The great satisfactions of the job are the mastery of danger and the culling of facts to form a concluding physical truth. These facts comprise the closing of the case and thus the story. Hammett's men stand hollowly proud in their constant case conclusions. They are in no way affirmed or redeemed. They have survived."

Friday, May 9, 2014

"plot holes"

I don't believe in the existence of "plot holes." For me the nature of imagination and "suspension of disbelief" preclude the possibility of plot holes, just as they make it possible for poetry to be written without Meter. Whenever one encounters an alleged "plot hole," one should consider that the writer(s) might have intended to give the story a shape different from what you've come to expect. Do "impressionistic" painters simply lack the skill to make images in one-point perspective? Most likely not. Rather, they are painting in a style -- and appealing to a taste -- which differs from that which insists that pictures must reflect sensate reality.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

my genre

For fiction I think I have found my "genre."  Literally:  my genre.  I envision it to be a sort of hybrid between Dashiell Hammett and
H. P. Lovecraft.  Perhaps this conception has come to me insofar as (1) I do not want to write pure "detective" stories; and (2) I do not want to write pure "supernatural horror" thrillers.  What I want to do is create a protagonist with a kind of Indy Jones persona, but with emphasis on the latter's scholarly side; i.e., there won't be exotic "adventures", but there will be an antiquarian element, and, as per Sam Spade, "a reasonable amount of trouble."  As I've more or less indicated before, I think the best thing to write will be of people doing precisely the sort of things I would do if I could please myself.  So I might write of professors of architectural history; private detectives of a century ago; men who live a gentleman's life of leisure; marshals of old Northwestern mining towns; saloon proprietors; thieves, grifters and gangsters; et cetera ad infinitum.  And, of course, at some point, Elves.  In any case what I really like is the idea of a very street smart, old Pinkerton type coming up against mysterious artifacts which harbor ancient secrets and unleash preternatural menace. What, for example, would happen if Jack Bauer came into possession of the Philosophers' Stone?

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Dovetail

"Despite the general trend of modern philosophy toward idealism, salvation lies in a return to wisdom, that is, in recognizing the primacy of being, from which proceed all intelligibility, creativity and, along with the beings born of its intelligent and free fecundity, their truth and their beauty.  In order to do so, philosophy must transcend the immobility of being and the mobility of becoming in the pure actuality of the act whereby being is.  For that act transcends being, upon which it confers the existence proper to becoming.

"This is why the philosophical implications of art are a necessary complement to a philosophy of being; indeed, to meditate on the paradox of art -- an analogical image of what true creation might be -- may prepare the mind for the notion, so important to a genuine metaphysics, that all is not said by asserting that being (esse, das Sein) is, and is itself; for this is true, but it is also true of that which is (das Seinde), whereas only of the act of being itself is it right to say that it is that whereby that thing is a being, is that which it is and never ceases to change in order to become more fully that which it can be.  What a careful study of art helps us to understand -- if we do not think it unworthy of a philosopher's attention -- is that despite its inferior ontological status, becoming results in an increase of reality."

+ Etienne Gilson (The Arts of the Beautiful, p. 140)



Saturday, March 15, 2014

Dearest M.,

I don't know when you'll read this but I figured since we won't be talking regularly anymore I'd say some things I might ought to say.  This transition back to normalcy for you is, I gather, kind of analogous to a friend "moving" to a new city or state for me; but in another sense, it's not any different than two school friends who by default lose touch after one or both of them leaves school.

I don't blame you for wanting to leave school.  As you know, I myself have had more ambivalence about formalized education than anyone. My position about it in many ways resembles the position of agnostics concerning what they call "organized religion."  They think "spirituality" -- if pursued at all -- ought to be explored as a personal endeavor.  Well, I think "intellectuality" (as it were) ought to be explored as a personal endeavor.

I must say I'm happy to have helped you see this; it's nice to know I can be a positive influence in some way at least.  It seems that I have changed you more than you have changed me; indeed, I'm not the type that is easily "budged."  But I agree that your influence over me will be concerning deeper matters and over the longer haul, and will be of much more long-term -- indeed, eternal -- importance.

As letter-writing is not something I do nor am likely to start doing, I hope that I can, from time to time, create more "Dearest M." posts here; perhaps they can serve as my occasional "letters."  Aside from that, I hope you'll check back here from time to time to check other things as well, in which case such e-letters shouldn't escape your notice.  Certainly this method is far more transparent than e- or paper-mail, for anyone else in the world can read here if they choose to.  In any case, as you can see from my recent posts, I'll be keeping the world (and myself) abreast here of my Progress As A Professional Writer.  I don't believe I'll be making that Big Bad Blog any time soon, though I may do some renovations around this place; it could use some cornice-work, and a new roof, perhaps some stronger foundations, a few gargoyles...

Anyway, ciao for now,
Gaius Iohannes Caesar Trevorianus, Esq.

Friday, March 14, 2014

re:

I don't want people to see me:  I want them to see what I see.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

lines & tales

I've decided that I simply mustn't write "novels."  Aside from the fact that they're a dime a dozen nowadays, it has occurred to me that they don't particularly interest me.  The only stories I've ever read are what are called "short stories."  All the authors of fiction that I like are short story writers; moreover, I read these works over and over again.  And being that I'm more inclined to linguistic felicity and improvisation in art, it makes more sense for me to write "short works of profound meaning" (which are, incidentally, my favorite kind of books) than to attempt these prose epics which are called novels.  I don't believe, for that matter, that I could maintain interest in the same subject for the length of time it takes to write even the first draft of a novel.  If I'm going to write something long at all, it's most likely going to be something I'm deeply interested in, and if I'm deeply interested in it, I'd rather write a monograph, a serious and scholarly study, than follow in the footsteps of Ayn Rand.

In sum:  poems, yes; short stories, yes; "flash" fiction, sure; monographs, yes; novels, no, no, and also -- no.  No is for Novel.

manifolds

One of the great things about Robert Sokolowski is that -- true to traditional phenomenology -- he describes things, rather than arguing them (most of the time).  He sticks to talking about themes and things that no one with five senses and "common"-sense can rationally deny without looking a fool. Not coincidentally, Husserl originally said -- in the very early days -- that phenomenology is "descriptive psychology."  I think these descriptive analyses are great tools for the metaphysician, for, by employing them, he can generate a richer expository of the Existing Thing.  Classically, metaphysics is so concerned with demonstrating that a thing exists (rather than not existing, or not existing in a certain respect) that it unfortunately overlooks how the thing appears to the metaphysician, how it is noematically displayed -- the object "in the How of its givenness."

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

What 'Knowing' Means

"What is contained in the intellect, as an interior word, is by common usage said to be a conception of the intellect.  A being is said to be conceived in a corporeal way if it is formed in the womb of a living animal by a life-giving energy, in virtue of the active function of the male and the passive function of the female in whom the conception takes place.  The being thus conceived shares in the nature of both parents and resembles them in species.

"In a similar manner, what the intellect comprehends is formed in the intellect, the intelligible object being, as it were, the active principle, and the intellect the passive principle.  That which is thus comprehended by the intellect, existing as it does within the intellect, is conformed both to the moving intelligible object (of which it is a certain likeness) and to the quasi-passive intellect (which confers on it intelligible existence).  Hence what is comprehended by the intellect is not unfittingly called the conception of the intellect."

+ St. Thomas Aquinas (Compendium Theologiae)



Saturday, February 22, 2014

Works in Progress

Having finally decided that I am, by profession, a Writer, I've sorted through the mess of ideas for projects I'd had on hold the past several months and decided on a few definite "working projects."  Who knows how all this will play out in the end, but presently this is how I am proceeding --

(1) A novel based on the general outline I posted here a few weeks ago. As I now conceive it, it should be a novel in two parts; "Part I" will essentially be a crime novel, while "Part II" will be a sort of philosophical novel, much of which will be the protagonist's reflection on his actions in the first part.

(2) A monograph on the subject of Deception.  This will largely be a study of the theme in the fiction of Dashiell Hammett, but will also explore the phenomenon of con artistry, the theory of deception held by James Jesus Angleton (the first Chief of Counterintelligence at CIA), with some T. S. Eliot and Sun-tzu thrown in.

(3) A science fiction tale about one who genetically engineers the granddaddy long-leg (which, having only "pierced sucking mouthparts," cannot bite) to bite, and uses this seemingly harmless arachnid as a weapon to perform some kind of assassination.  My grandfather, who is for all intents and purposes an entomologist, claims that the granddaddy long-leg is the most venomous spider in the world -- enough venom to knock out a cow -- but is harmless because it cannot bite. We're going to do a bit of research on this before I proceed, however, because apparently this is some sort of "urban legend" which has been "debunked" by MythBusters; but my grandfather still maintains that it's true.  So, yeah, have to do some digging first. (In any case, there are certainly many stories out there whose premise is merely an urban legend.)

(4) A submission of poems to my alma mater's literary journal, Five Points.

(5) And perhaps something concerning an idea that I had just this evening relating to the concept of "asylum."  I'm thinking either a poem or a short story.  I'm just now only toying with the idea, but besides the common parlance definition of "asylum" as a place where the insane are committed, the word has much richer connotations; it essentially means "a place of refuge"; hence the term can be used as a pun which connotes, yes, a clinic for the insane, but also any kind of hospital, or a monastery, or a place of "retreat," or, of course, "political asylum."

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

writing the con

Interestingly, the structure or outline by which con artists play their game could easily be used for writing a story or novel, namely a story about a long con.  It could be used precisely as a plot outline, and complexity could be introduced into the story by certain phases going dreadfully wrong (e.g., the con might go off swimmingly until step nine or ten).  The following comes from David W. Maurer's infamous work, The Big Con:  The Story of the Confidence Man (1940).

1.  Locating and investigating a well-to-do victim. (Putting the mark up.)

2.  Gaining the victim's confidence.  (Playing the con for him.)

3.  Steering him to meet the insideman.  (Roping the mark.)

4  Permitting the insideman to show him how he can make a large amount of money dishonestly.  (Telling him the tale.)

5.  Allowing the victim to make a substantial profit.  (Giving him the convincer.)

6.  Determining exactly how much he will invest.  (Giving him the breakdown.)

7.  Sending him home for this amount of money.  (Putting him on the send.)

8.  Playing him against the big store and fleecing him.  (Taking off the touch.)

9.  Getting him out of the way as quietly as possible.  (Blowing him off.)

10. Forestalling action by the law.  (Putting in the fix.)


Thursday, January 30, 2014

My Desire

To commit one great and lucrative crime;

To forthwith change my identity and relocate;

To confess my sins and leave my old life behind utterly;

To live the rest of my days in sweet leisure.

Update 13 Feb. '14:  I think I'm going to write a story about a character who does precisely this.  That's what I may start doing:  write stories about all the fantasy worlds I live in.  I am, as some codger once said about an old friend of mine, "a legend in my own mind."

Monday, January 20, 2014

Early Eliot

Two lovely pre-Prufrock poems by T. S. Eliot.
____________________________________________________________

Spleen

Sunday: this satisfied procession
Of definite Sunday faces;
Bonnets, silk hats, and conscious graces
In repetition that displaces
Your mental self-possession
By this unwarranted digression.

Evening, lights, and tea!
Children and cats in the alley;
Dejection unable to rally
Against this dull conspiracy.

And Life, a little bald and gray,
Languid, fastidious, and bland,
Waits, hat and gloves in hand,
Punctilious of tie and suit
(Somewhat impatient of delay)
   On the doorstep of the Absolute.

Silence

Along the city streets
It is still high tide,
Yet the garrulous waves of life
Shrink and divide
With a thousand incidents
Vexed and debated:–
This is the hour for which we waited–

This is the ultimate hour
   When life is justified.
   The seas of experience
   That were so broad and deep,
   So immediate and steep,
   Are suddenly still.
   You may say what you will,
   At such peace I am terrified.
   There is nothing else beside.