No free wireless in MSP, ORD, MIA and I didn’t try in BOG, but there’s free wireless on the doorstep here as we wait for the key.
Sunny in Bogota and apparently 66 though it feels warmer. The taxi driver said it is a hot day. I agree.
No free wireless in MSP, ORD, MIA and I didn’t try in BOG, but there’s free wireless on the doorstep here as we wait for the key.
Sunny in Bogota and apparently 66 though it feels warmer. The taxi driver said it is a hot day. I agree.
Posted by unknowing on May 31, 2009
The Lord has given us good luck. We sold the cars, we made more money on our things than I expected, we got rid of the heavy things, we overflowed the trash throwing stuff away, we cleaned and toiled like manual laborers . . . and we’re done.
Well, we only have a microwave to dispose of, somewhere.
No home, no telephone number, some 300lbs in personal possessions . . . and the navigation of a few places with said poundage . . . and we’re there!
Minnesota is warm and dry: excellent weather for departing from it.
Posted by unknowing on May 29, 2009
Now the weirdness begins. I was so tired last night that when I saw something with a connection to Star Wars I thought how comfortable it would be to watch the old Star Wars straight through . . . on those old, brown-plaid sofas in a room with orange carpet and low ceilings.
I was actually in a room like that to have a last meal with our new pastor. I told my wife how much I like rooms like that (it also had a lamp suspended on a chain, and I like that), but she was born after the seventies.
If that was the seventies.
Probably was. I miss it.
Anyway, today I found myself thinking a milkshake would be good. I don’t mind milkshakes, but I have never found myself wanting one, though I think about them when I see them on a menu. Do you know what’s going to happen to me when I’m in Colombia? I’m going to grow nostalgic for barbecued chicken cooked on a grill, for large glasses mostly full of ice and a little iced tea, for wall-to-wall carpeting, for broad smooth roads, for creaking wooden houses . . . and for winter, fall . . .
Posted by unknowing on May 27, 2009
One thing we have grown here in Minneapolis is rich in friends. I like my solitude and I like my dead friends–their writing–but there are many joys in living friends. We do not go into a friendless world when we move to Colombia–perhaps I will renew very ancient friendships indeed, somewhere along the line. But we leave behind many.
And yet it is the hope that making all these new friends here gives that gives us hope of making many more there. People are such an interesting commodity that even made up ones can be extremely enjoyable. I have been thinking about Bilbo Baggins and what a splendid fellow he is. He is my friend, though I am not his: he can always count on me. If I have learned anything in Minneapolis it is perhaps that live friends can sometimes be as interesting as friends like St. Augustine and Bilbo Baggins.
Posted by unknowing on May 26, 2009
At last! I no longer own a car.
Posted by unknowing on May 23, 2009
Main car sold! Have money to travel! Only two nights of work left!
Posted by unknowing on May 22, 2009
Here is a book: it is melancholy and it is humorous, it is ribald but not lewd, it is full of life and people, engrossing and to make you think. In short: it is a success; it does that which literature was invented to do. It is not small thing to find a book of this sort, and I am grateful for it. There are books you read and after you want more of the same, like The Lord of the Rings. There are books you read with satisfaction and after them you happily turn to something else. But after The Book of Ebenezer Le Page nothing satisfactory can come. It is entire and unique and you are left feeling like you will never read anything else, other than perhaps the simplicities and sublimities of the Psalms. I do not say this feeling goes on for ever, but you really are left feeling that way. You don’t want more because the thing has been completed: the life of Ebenezer Le Page has come to its conclusion conclusively.
The rough style of the book was a little difficult for me. I’ve never heard Guernsey English and without the sound I am not entirely sure when it comes to appreciating a style. Nevertheless I can understand how it was necessary: it accomplishes much with regard to showing us the character of Ebenezer Le Page and with long patience it rises by glimmers into a blaze of glory. I was thoroughly satisfied with the conclusion, and the way the style opened the way to see what G. B. Edwards wanted to show I cannot fault. Edwards was fully in command of his unmanipulated protagonist. One feels after such a book one understand better not only Guernsey, insular life, the Guernseyman, humanity in general, but also the ways of God. Yes, the ways of God. If it was the work of his life for Edwards to write this his sole book, then it was a life well spent. The work is a treasure.
Because of this, it is hard to write something that does justice to the book after only one reading, and it is hard to substantiate what may seem to you like hyperbole in my remarks above. I await a second reading in order to put the thing together more completely, to mull over the consequences of what Edwards understood and showed in the book, to put my finger on exactly how it is the complexity of the book resolves into the enormously satisfactory tying up of all things at the end. But I will attempt to give some evidence for the esteem in which I hold the work.
The book is mainly concerned with a change taking place during the life of Ebenezer Le Page: it is the change of the island on which he spends all his life from a quietly prosperous agricultural community to the overpriced tourist destination of later times.* It is also a story of thwarted love and how life goes on, about the tragic view of life and the sustaining love of life that accompanies the tragic view of life—and this is an insight Edwards delivers very convincingly. It is also a book about how Ebenezer overcomes the cliches of religion and his lack of education and the many disappointments of his life to possess something good and true and beautiful which he captures and sets down in his book.
They way Edwards has Ebenezer capture what he does in his book is brilliant: he uses the style and outlook of a man who has never, apparently, read any books beside the Bible and Robinson Crusoe. And it is this long, deft, difficult, sly but believable way in which Ebenezer Le Page comes at last to communicate glories—ironically—that makes the book so remarkable. We participate with Edwards in understanding the irony of what Ebenezer unconsciously does, and this is important for the insight Edwards wants us to achieve. C. S. Lewis says something in his essay on stories about a good story being like a net made to catch the intangible fish that is the real satisfaction of good literature. Ebenezer Le Page is not aware—or only dimly aware—that he is making a net: this is the irony, but it is not a savage or gloomy irony, but a triumphant and skillful irony on G. B. Edwards’ part. The irony is important because it shows us that the character is not contrived, that he lives and genuinely possesses the things his author gives to him. Were Ebenezer to set out with conscious deliberation to capture what he does, his lack of skill would prove an impediment. What G. B. Edwards does is show us how such a character triumphs in the possession of glories earned through his devotion to place, the grace of his good humor, his loyalty to family, his piety in spite of almost crippling ignorance in matters of religion, his thrift and good sense. In short: the folk culture of Guernsey of which Ebenezer is a product and which he laments and desires in the aftermath of its destruction is what makes him able to make the kind of net to catch the intangible fish which is the satisfaction of reading this book.
How can a character be a place and a place be so much a character? Read the book. One only wishes more places had such books and characters.
* * *
Bits to Be Resurrected at the Second Reading with Some Prose a Bit Too Purple:
Perhaps what Edwards does is ring the changes on types of insularity: the good insularity of a man whose land is an island with all its strengths and weaknesses, his love of his own place and people and ways, and the bad insularity of a sentimental and fragmented religion. And the problem is a problem of sentiment, of proper sentiment, of mingled and polluted sentiment, of the search of the isolated heart for that local and universal place of loyalty, that rest of everlasting home glimpsed in a mutable life of shifting light and shadow. Ebenezer Le Page must learn where to leave his treasure and when he does he finds it has changed its value: this is the most wrenching and unsentimental part of the book. The book is melancholy but it ends in triumph, the only triumph available to the humble and powerless: the triumph of hope.
I wonder if the book is so much about religion because Edwards really believed that at the heart of this malady known as modern life is a religious disorder. The insularity of religion, that sentimental and fragmented religion, forces on a man the life of one on an island in a sea of ignorance. Ebenezer seeks truth, has a treasure, has a home and has thwarted desire.
At the end of his life Ebenezer looks on a new world, one in which, or for which, he is no longer suited. I think one thing the book looks at in a satisfactory way is how our times make us and shape us. It is existential in that it shows we are made out of the consequences of our choices. Regardless of the situation we face, with all its good and bad, we are responsible for our choices, and these, when rightly made, ennoble us regardless of the circumstances. The sun rises, the sea surges, the government plays tricks and makes enormous blunders; our permanence must be the permanence of the character of God seen in his works: a permanence of character.
*I notice it because I think tourism is such a blight, for all that in modern times it may be unavoidable–which doesn’t help: the pernicious surface curiosity, the failure to truly appreciate, the gawking and photography, the artificiality of the whole thing. Tourism is derivative: it creates a derivative place, a derivative life, a derivative economy; and I think it is predatory. Tourism degrades—apparently it is hard to get a quiet look at the Mona Lisa nowadays because of all the tourists standing there getting their picture; isn’t that enough pollution to make you want never to see the thing because you don’t want to be in the same room with those people? It captures entirely the stupidity of the worst sort of tourist: no sense of the real worth, just a famous object. A pox on all tourism and tourists and those who lack the shame to quit behaving like tourists and partake of the spirit thereof, and may we all be delivered from being tourists. I think the spirit of tourists is one of lacking what Anthony Daniels calls existential humility. The worst thing about it is the artificial approach to a way of life: the gawking, unappreciating, guide-book and camera of it all; or perhaps the worst thing is the local who only appreciates the tourist for his money and otherwise scorns him—that can’t be good for the locals. I don’t mind if you hypocritically partake of tourism when it is unavoidable, but have a proper contempt of it. If you like tourism and are not at all self-conscious about the condescending approach to a place it involves, stay away from this book.
Posted by unknowing on May 21, 2009
In May when all the leaves are new to the world come the strong winds to pull on them and to urge them toward that journey of the fall. I remember being out in it last year and wondering that the foliage was tested so early and what kind of leaves came through the adversity.
This year I watched the wide Mississippi, all waves and flash and foam. The wind and light played on the restless surface. Great turmoil was on the face of the waters, and a log progressing downstream, and even two geese progressing I know not whither.
I do not know whence the wind or whither it blew, but in the wind I was glad that in this world I have no continuing city.
* * *
At 5AM my colleague here at work had to depart abruptly, having returned from a trip on his motorcycle in which he had not managed to stay on the motorcycle all the time it was running. He was afraid he had split his skull and worried enough to get back on the motorcycle and head over to the ER. When I sent him a news story of an Italian working his way from Alaska to Argentina in a Toyota Corolla earlier this evening, he thought it was awesome. He also gave me a CD to listen to, earlier, and the strangest thing is that the music is remarkably mellow. I think I made it through three tracks.
* * *
Bad news: the peso is strengthening. Wait till I’m paid in pesos!!
Posted by unknowing on May 21, 2009
Cheese curds are good, deep fried.
Hot weather is not good. I could get used to it if that is what it was all the time. We are hotter here than during summer, usually. It will be nice to get away to the cool weather of Bogota, the wind, the rain, the clouds, the never ending autumn.
We want to go to Paipa too, and circle Tota and check out Mongui, and I want to go to Cartagena, and from there to other coastal places. Quiero ir a Manizales, a Bucaramanga, a Pasto, a Cali, y tambien a Buenaventura.
What else is good is the breeze coming off the St. Croix—or any body of water—on a hot day. Which reminds me that with the windows open in the Conservatory, the humidity is down and it is not so jungly, but it is awfully pleasant.
* * *
It is interesting to watch the thing with Sweatt (the stupid puns are hard to put up with and probably unavoidable, but otherwise it is interesting—using the term loosely, and that is the way to use terms in this thing, it seems) disintegrate into yelping. Somebody once said that nothing ever changes.
* * *
Now I’m working on a book by the extremely perceptive, shrewd and reliable Humphrey Carpenter on Waugh and his set. Better than Stannard on Waugh, I think. I’m going to write something worthwhile when I get to Colombia based on the notion that most the literary chaps of England between the wars and after were also pretty unimpressive chaps.
Posted by unknowing on May 19, 2009
Sounds like a story by Lord Dunsany.
Apparently it is sometimes used of Bogota. Medellin is the city of eternal spring, Bogota is the city of eternal autumn.
I have an essay on All the King’s Men I want to write, I have some reflections on The Book of Ebenezer Le Page to write, but I am in limbo being desirous to depart—perhaps I will have the will to write later on. The end of a thing is always worse than the beginning of a thing with me, and I need to work on that.
Posted by unknowing on May 18, 2009
I am always struck, when reading women novelists of the 18th and 19th Century, with the elegance of their diction, the completeness of thought and logic in normal conversation. Even if it turns our that their retelling is heightened, it has no stilted feeling: there must be much of the common diction elevating it. People trying it in our time would have, it seems to me, a hard time pulling it off. The preciseness of the way of putting a thing, the exactness of description and clarity of expression determine the quality of light in which the truth the author aims at can be seen.
Jane Eyre is the subject and the object of interest in this novel; it is she that makes it an interesting book. Jane Eyre is remarkable for her bold intelligence: she is not crushed by circumstances; she is persistently observant in her acute way; wonderfully stern in her self-examination, daring and not-daring to hope; and always indomitable and sensible in a way that excites admiration. The situations in which she finds herself we might deplore: some are fraught with an overrealized emotional tension; that she ends up with Rochester is perhaps not altogether satisfactory, though he has been tamed by circumstances; but Jane Eyre you have to admire. The book satisfies because Jane Eyre proves to have a character that is equal to the circumstances.
Jane’s meeting with the crone is characteristic, and it is the point at which the whole story comes into focus for me. A fortune teller traffics in generalizations, and Jane, who so frequently shelters behind generalities, who needs wit to maintain her position because she has nothing else, does battle with the crone who is as skilled as she is and more experienced. We are something of the crone—us readers—searching Jane to know her fortune. The crone turns out to be Mr. Rochester whose moral integrity has been compromised. What is unknown to Jane turns out to be what drives her away from Mr. Rochester, but what is unknown about the crone turns out to be what Jane wants and eventually, because she does not compromise either moral integrity or desire, achieves.
Romanticism deals in mystery, troubling underlying secrets, a world that is not all light and reason because at the core of humankind is not clear thought, but impulse and desire—which are harder to sort out. In Jane Eyre the emerging secret is a disappointment, and one which romantics who are not utopians take into account. It may be that Classicism understood its faults and that Romanticism, the reaction against the hypocrisy of Classicism ignored that fact; but Romanticism is the liberation Classicism never achieved of man from the tyranny of his own reason. It is the reconciliation of Jane Eyre to Mr. Rochester.
A novel needs to start with common interest, but at some point it must twist into such an engagement as will intrigue and keep the reader’s attention all the way to the satisfaction of the conclusion. A common interest, after all, can only be prolonged so far—perhaps the length of a short story. Romanticism understands that what makes people compelling is not the light of clear thinking and rational life but the impulse of the heart, which can be understood, but not exhausted. And the truth is that what makes humanity compelling is the mystery of a creature with reason and impulse both, struggling to operate while satisfying the demands of both properly. Rochester is all impulse, but the Calvinist, St. John Eyre Rivers is the reverse: the path of unfeeling duty. And Jane Eyre while fleeing the distortion of unregulated passions, does not—rightly and to our satisfaction, if with some suspense—give in to the calculations of duty. She perseveres even though impulse has left her destitute. She is a creature of impulse and of reason. To write a novel successfully, as Charlotte Bronte has, is to show us successfully how the two come together. I think that is what Jane Eyre does.
The interlude after Jane’s leave brings up the dilemma: dependency versus independency, or: how to live? Is it a true dilemma? What option does Jane have? To live where she does not belong with independency, out of sight, or in miserable dependency. We want a satisfaction buried in mystery.
What do these poetic interludes mean anyway? Description takes on a slight poetic diction, syntax in other order, and alliteration.
Another preoccupation of that age is shown: spiritual equality. Who is the equal of this indomitable woman? It turns out to be the strange, indomitable man: the romantic man of impulse and not the rationalist man of duty. Jane Eyre is imperfect, must accept an imperfect world, and in this is much of the satisfaction of the novel: we know the world to be this way, and yet, like her, we want more. We are grateful to Charlotte Bronte for having given it to us.
Posted by unknowing on May 16, 2009
What holds the story together is Lewis, or rather, the benevolent, attentive, encouraging narrator and his occasional presence in the story disguised as a professor, a dwarf, a badger, a lion. His is a sane and playful presence, not tame and never thoughtless. Though great danger is always imminent in Narnia, there is a profound sense of excitement, of mystery, of being loved. This sense is difficult to accomplish but also impossible to counterfeit. Lewis manages it partly through frequent second-person digressions keyed to the experience of any bright but otherwise ordinary 9-year-old, the age at which he lost his mother. Most of all, he forms a bond with young readers by pledging again and again to believe them by proxy: in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Lucy persists in believing that she has gone to another world, and despite the betrayal of her brother Edmund, the other children go there with her. (To my knowledge, no one has followed up on the aside that Edmund’s perverse, hateful behavior began when he was sent away to boarding school.) What continues to draw children to Lewis is not only the pleasure of traveling to a world that sounds better than this one but the promise of his company, so entertaining and learned, and so light about it.
Posted by unknowing on May 16, 2009
The Minneapolis Institute of Arts is one of my favorite places. It is a treasure house of curious, interesting and even beautiful things in great variety. It is mostly quiet, nicely spacious, and well arranged for variety and continuity. There you can rest and listen to the fountain, listen to people passing through like leaves in a wind, watch the decline of religion depicted in a collection that runs the whole trajectory of Western painting, and see many strange things full of a distant and mysterious way of life.
You can usually muse there, sometimes you flee crowds—but you can get away from them, you can enter period rooms and remember the literature from that period in snatches, or gaze on the alien elegance of Japanese habitations. I haven’t looked carefully at everything they have because it is so much, but I have looked carefully at enough to enjoy a certain pleasant familiarity with its galleries and hallways and some of its prowling security personel. The Minneapolis Institute of Arts t is alive with the dead and haunted by the lingering effects of long departed, imperishable human souls.
Posted by unknowing on May 14, 2009
In ancient times, it seems to me that Blake, who for all his protest was glad to be alive, and ever spoke of his gladness, would have worshiped in some chapel of the Sun, but that Shelley, who hated life because he sought ‘more in life than any understood,’ would have wandered, lost in ceaseless reverie, in some chapel of the Star of infinite desire.
I think too that as he knelt before an altar where a thin flame burnt in a lamp made of green agate, a single vision would have come to him again and again, a vision of a boat drifting down a broad river between high hills where there were caves and towers, and following the light of one Star; and that voices would have told him how there is for every man some one scene, some one adventure, some one picture that is the image of his secret life, for wisdom first speaks in images, and that this one image, if he would but brood over it his life long, would lead his soul, disentangled from unmeaning circumstance and the ebb and flow of the world, into that far household where the undying gods await all whose souls have become simple as flame, whose bodies have become quiet as an agate lamp.
But he was born is a day when the old wisdom had vanished and was content merely to write verses, and often with little thought of more than verses.
Posted by unknowing on May 13, 2009
I don’t really have things to say and I’m not going to try much. The writing will come when the time come for writing. I could say we tried putting all our stuff in our luggage and we were pleased, but who really cares? I could say our luggage has been mostly cleansed and smells like something I’m calling agent orange, but who cares about that?
Spring is with Minnesota, but I’m not indulging any descriptions.
I could say I just paid $4500 in credit card bills for our trip, laptop and schooling, and that might be more interesting, but hardly much. I’m just glad I have it to spend. I hope when we get there we get a job pretty quick.
Actually I don’t as I would like to have some time to travel around the country.
In all this I’m so relaxed about this new life I even played card games with small children for a considerable time. I never play card games, though I do, from time to time, like to play with small children provided they are female. The mood of the holiday is so much on me that I am not concerned as much as I used to be about wasting time doing trivial things with other people; perhaps because we’re going to leave.
I’ve been enjoying The Book of Ebenezer Le Page and hope to finish it tonight, or tomorrow. He’s an engaging rustic and the book is full of people. When I saw the sly way he goes about literary allusions it reminded me of Mark Twain for some reason. I think anybody interested in insular life and lamenting old ways ought to enjoy it as much as I am. There is something simmering all along with religion in the book, but what it will come out to I don’t think I am prepared to make any conjecturing about. On the whole, I think have a great deal of sympathy with Ebenezer’s views on religion except that they suffer from a great deal of ignorance, and while it is foolish to sympathize with ignorance, it is not hard to understand why he remains ignorant.
Posted by unknowing on May 12, 2009
I bin thinkin about the computer I’m takin down and how to protect it. Reckin it might be good if it looked broke. Maybe if I put duck tape on the cover of it like it had a crack developed, it would warn people off. Can’t hurt, and I already got duck tape on my GNT and my little notebook and I was thinking theres a few other things could use some re-inforcemints before their subjugated to the rigamaroles of travel. I’ll have to think about it some. I guess I’ll be able to put some on it once were their since it aint my practiss to travel anywhere without a fresh roll of duck tape anyway.
Posted by unknowing on May 11, 2009
I don’t know where the use comes from, but the notion that you buy a home rather than a house is one of those things I will chalk up to the lies of advertising. You can’t buy a home, and to call a house a home requires the presence of certain symbols. It sounds finer to be a homeowner than merely to own a house, but this ownership is not the result of transaction but one of habit, and it irritates me that people use the term ‘homeowner’ enough for me to want to avoid the use altogether.
It makes me think of the necessity of spiritual habitation for all things inanimate to continue properly: I mean the difference between an inhabited and an uninhabited house, etc. (What exactly the relationship is between what is inhabited, ruin and nature, I am not sure, though it is something worth thinking on. Perhaps it has to do with the kind of spirits inhabiting a thing. We do not call a wilderness a ruin, but an uninhabited place soon becomes ruined: purpose must have something to do with it.) There must be, however, something of the attention of a spirit on matter: an uninhabited house, however furnished and decorated, it seems to me, is not a home.
A home exists in human consciousness, and the symbols are perhaps the wedding rings between the furnished, decorated house and the spirit dwelling there. I have discovered how little I like our bathroom now that it is missing simply two pictures that were formerly there. I have, I must admit, always had a dislike for bare walls, but I think it is due to the missing symbols of human habitation.
Well, another thing to ruminate over as we take the candles hung on the doorknobs down, and put all the knacks on the bookshelves together, and sell the cowhide rug and unplug (a tear, here) the old lava lamp.
Posted by unknowing on May 8, 2009
Fine days, in some ways, and in some ways, not fine. In short, the days are mingled.
Never have I enjoyed such prolonged season of good reading, it seems to me, though surely I have. I read Eddison and have to pause and think and stare and relish the atmosphere. (Speaking of Eddison, Lewis has an essay “On Stories” which commends Eddison as few are commended, and which I have read a second time with greater profit after having read more of the books mentioned therein. I have to get The Well at the World’s End by Morris. The essay by Lewis is all available in google books.) I have Kirk, I have Lukacs, I have Turgenev to finish, Yeats, and Brooks, and Brooke, and Booth and at last The Book of Ebenezer Le Page.
When I am not reading I am getting rid of things, and what a lot of things we have. We enjoy it, and we are determined never to pack away so many things again. And, of course, there are the things that do not go so well: we bought luggage and it came smelling of gasoline and for some reason we thought we could get it out and have spent two weeks trying, with improvements, but now the luggage feels cursed. Of the few things we’re keeping . . . And then I got a laptop today and a cordless mouse which all worked fine until we cut off the UPC and sent in the rebate and then the mouse stopped working. Not an expensive thing, but one wants the few things one is hanging onto to be tried and true . . . without being expensive. Well, it teaches us not to put any trust even in a few possessions, I suppose.
And though we are moving things out of here, sometimes we wish things would go more quickly during the week, because people start checking craigslist and carsoup around Thursday. Too bad Mondays and Tuesdays are my days off. But the weeks are fleeting, and that is the good thing; soon enough all things will be otherwise, and what will not change is that the present moment will be the one continually with us to enjoy.
Posted by unknowing on May 5, 2009
I like quitting a job. I’ve never really had a job I wanted to stick with all my life, and so I enjoy when at last I am leaving: the whole time leading up comes with a sense of an impending holiday. I feel like taking great long days of reading, throwing away my belongings in a leisurely way (I’ve always kept stuff out of a sense of duty or out of sentimentality, but now I have a chance to throw it in the trash, since most of my stuff is trash, I enjoy it greatly, except for the books I have to part with). I like the notion of having little and being at the mercy of chance. Chance has been good to me. I do not think I have ever enjoyed hearing music so much as when it comes by surprise. There is something in pleasure associated with anticipation, but much in it associated with discovery, with arriving at something in an unexpected way.
May the Lord continue to give me good luck.
* * *
I’m listening, more or less, to Anthony Powell’s many volumes of A Dance to the Music of Time. I enjoy it, though it is a stale world, in a way, but not, for all that, one that is uninteresting. I enjoy the reader, I enjoy the quality of Powell’s prose, and I am enough of an Anglophile to enjoy anything about England, especially in the Twentieth Century. The theme appears to be, as the theme of so many things in our age appears to be, the undoing and passing of a better way of life and a better order. Unbelievers have written eloquent eulogies for the epochs of faith.
I seem to be drawing to a close on the great epoch of my continual listening to books on tape.
* * *
I went out in the warm evening (it felt warm to me) on Saturday after midnight (still evening, you see) and wondered at the coming of spring. I hope to see the lilacs, the white trees and the pink trees, and all the world green and also dripping with continual rain before I leave. The wonder of spring is that it follows the stark desolation of winter and it also consists much in the coordinated and concerted effort of all the world renewing itself. In Colombia things are green all the time, and the flowers are brilliant: the cascading bougainvillea on the walls, the roses and carnations, and so on. But they do not come out of noting to fill up everything with a concert of renewal. There the birds chirp in the fruit trees all year round, and do not suddenly come out of a silent world to fill it up with new, cheerful sounds.
Not exactly monotonous, but not, exactly, the same. Here already we have a crop of unruly dandelions grinning in the sun.
* * *
For some reason my mother kept my grade school report cards. Strange, the clutter of paper we trail after us like comets of faded, yellow paper in blue plastic covers (I have been outside watching that rain of stars of a night and thinking: how like faded, yellow paper in blue plastic covers; or perhaps I thought: how like my grades). What do I think about these things? I think about all these things that they are, like the ruins of Ireland and the Cathedrals of great cities, destined for conflagration. Of all the things that will remain, irrelevant official papers measure the least. I have written and officially notarized records of my birth, even though I am present to attest to it and have hope of an eternal such witness. It is thanks to the impostors and frauds I bear these fading papers with me until they are no longer necessary. But when I am no longer present these papers will perhaps remain, except that they will be irrelevant to any but those who have other reasons already indirectly bearing witness to the fact of my existence, and consequently, my birth.
* * *
A place for everything and everything in its place, I told my wife when we started out. A rationally deducible place for everything and everything in such a place, I emended, some time after the first pronouncement. Now that we are getting rid of the things and places, disorder threatens our lives. We are heading into a veritable vortex of disorder over the next few months. It is a good time to examine the rational basis of the order we have, and to learn to be more flexible in resisting disorder in our midst.
Posted by unknowing on May 4, 2009
I’ve been working, now, on finishing The Sword of Imagination, the autobiography of Russell Kirk. It is an opportunity for him to ramble about things, to interject observations and anecdotes that one would otherwise probably only get through personal correspondence or conversation; so it makes it yet another enjoyable book. There is very little of this kind of living in our day—from what I can tell, and I remember Lewis lamenting to Greeves that such ways were passing and rejoicing that they had enjoyed them—and less of this kind of informed, learned, informal conversation, though that may entirely be my fault. We live in a world where our friends actually seriously suggest to us the purchase and ownership of the latest fad gadget—but perhaps that was a joke since it didn’t come with an offending list of exclusively practical considerations.
Here is a book so interwoven with the view that what is lacking most of all is imagination that in reading it you can’t help but come away convinced, unless you have so little imagination your reading is essentially sub-literate.
One of the things he exposes is what he calls American Pelagianism in education. It is like Pelagianism in that it denies the necessary operation of a mystery in the life of humankind—an anti-romanticism or a rationalism, I might call it. The analogy of a heresy to an event more or less removed from theology can be a dangerous thing, but so can all comparisons when abused. Here it is apt: Kirk is talking about the belief that education is a cure for social remedies, and by education he means what American universities do. It is the notion that people don’t have the right information, and had they the right information then things would be improved. The solution is to tell them the right thing, which they will then proceed to operate upon once they have received it. Not that Kirk is against right information, but that mere information is not what it takes; this Pelagianism is a glib answer that fails to understand the problem. So institutions of learning cease to be communities of learning and are merely academic conglomerates where the imagination is mortified rather than cultivated—and the information is not all that good either.
It is good to read old and stern but not sententious words against depraved tastes, against decadence, ignorance and other such defeats. Kirk was full of the grace the proper imagination lends to all of life and many of its baroque adornments. So much so that even tough the list is getting limited, I’m going to have to read The Roots of American Order before I no longer own it.
Posted by unknowing on May 2, 2009