When you read history you learn that every moment’s decision carries consequences, you learn that your choices matter, that the ideas you embrace and the groups you join yourself to are not something of the moment but play out through the years. History is a way of seeing and admiring wisdom and principled conduct, it is a proper instrument for instructing us in good choices and warning us to be deliberate. History is not always full of wisdom, but it is replete with folly and all the consequences thereof, and in contrast the wisdom one sees shines the brighter, the better to be understood and properly valued. So we can say that historiography is a way of using time, so often an enemy, to our advantage; as the poet of historical consciousness once said, only through time is time conquered. History helps us to see the moral gravitation of the human condition, not to be overcome or rejected but accepted in order to flourish. Principled conduct is the kind of behavior that views reward in a way that transcends time, and our study of history helps us to understand that.

Chatter of the Unexamined Life

I’m having a lot of success with papers by thinking of minor events as major events. You know how you get to the end of the paper and are done with it and then realize there’s a bunch of bibliography you neglected and you’ve returned everything to the library? That’s the kind of event I’m trying to turn into a major event, rather than something I only have twenty minutes or so to get done by having to go to the library after dark.

I think it is a stroke of genius. Schedule three hours for it, get it done in one, feel good about oneself, celebrate, look for some other irritating oversight and repeat. What could be better? I’m going to turn in work as careful about the requirements as a girl’s.

I’m in a peculiar position where I have to get good grades, you know. In the PhD, they’ll kick you out if you can’t get Bs. I’m not the kind of chap to worry about something artificial like grades. Grades are for legalists. But getting kicked out of a PhD program could have a downside, and none of the glory of scornfully dropping out. So it is a good thing I have a new approach.

What else is new is that I’ve got a final. I don’t think I’ve had a final since 2002 when I took my last MDiv course. I don’t think any of my ThM classes had finals. I think finals are for legalists too, but he’s giving us all the questions beforehand, so it is hard for the label to stick. There are seven questions to prepare, and four of them will be on the test. I’ve scheduled a week to prepare, which is a bit disproportionate but the teacher is kind of hard to read. I think he may be the kind who values quantity over quality, unfortunately. Never did too well with those, me.

As for the novel, it is coming nicely. I’m imagining like the dickens and making some headway indeed. Every bit has to be interesting, every chapter has to have its own intrigue, a sound conclusion, and a bit of a cliff too so that there will be, besides the intrigue casually sown in former parts, a real desire to turn the page. I’m going to go over and over that thing and take all the time up to the last minute so that I’m sure he wants to read more than the 50 pages I give him. Eminently proportionate.

That way, when I flunk out of the PhD program, I can still keep up with the long-term dream of becoming a writer of Science Fiction, a more honorable way to make a living than slapping grades on other people.

Philadelphia, a way of putting it

Lincoln parkway winds
Kelly runs through the rock
curves along the Schuylkill
its surface unzipped by punts
so many, a madness of exercise
tossing ponytails and sweating mamoths
bright frenzy of running shoes
the line below the art museum
for the statue near it but not of it
Ben Frankling parkway closed as usual
near where Joan of Arc rides golden
the not quite circulation of the car
empty spaces full of cars
people who do not stay
the lots, the grim cold parking
palatial facades, ironbarred churches
the monstrosity of city hall
the row houses from all the ages
the accumulated Philadelphia
a violin shop or a longbrickwall
a hospital, a tavern, a sailing vessel
overwarm interiors of winter
concourses of station and subway
interconnected deserted possibilities
where the windhowl is never heard
nor pigeons ever go
where dimming lightfixtures
more feebly indicate the need
for commercial renovation
tunnel ways, cathedral space
where no one lingers
hotel lobbies rustling with activity
with inelegant interior decoration
the crowded market, the throbbing heart
of Philadelphia it would seem
where once was Reading Terminal
now steam and counters and long lines
there is also the historic section
a reduction of history to tourism
because history matters
the throb of sidewalk life
musicians in the winter sun
the shoe repair shops and the binders
Chinatown and bubble tea
and hanging duck in windows
Macy’s decorated for shopping
when you listen to the organ you can stop
that lavish oversupplied interior space
well-dressed people traverse
antcrawling, trying on the boots
in the age that, doesn’t it seem to you
least needs the boots?

Late Semestral

There’s a book called Reformed Catholicity, new book, with all the usual blurbs. We are required to respond to it and I was having the hardest time till groping to describe it I said it was a non-book, and got a positive response from others engaged in responding to it. The whole problem was that it is neither good nor bad: it’s ambiguous.

Had me down for a while, I can tell you. It is a relatively minor project, but the one that stalled me. I’ve spent more time on those 2500 words than on most others this semester, and with few returns. But figuring out the thing is was brought clarity. I wish I had not taken the blurbs so seriously, but when your own adviser blurbs the blurb (I’m going to ask him straight out if he actually read the book; I understand the guy with an office beside his is engaged in reviewing it and the rumor is it won’t be positive, heh).

Cheated, I’m taking it out on the school. They’re running all these evaluations, so I keep holding them up to the standard of Hogwarts. They ought to have commons, several of them, and the model to follow would be the Gryffindor commons: tapestries, huge chairs, fireplace, etc. Library: again, see Hogwarts School of Wizardry and Magic, a bit more atmosphere, some aesthetic considerations, diamond-pane glazed windows. Not pushing for Quidditch though, but parchment and quill rather than online registration would be a plus.

To Read Plotinus

When it comes to Plotinus, you should look for something by Arthur Hillary Armstrong if you want to be well-oriented. Armstrong explains Plotinus in several places at various lengths, and translates the acclaimed Loeb edition—the introduction to which may be too brief, but is still cogent. After Armstrong I think Bréhier is the best. His 1922 lectures lead you into Plotinus in a very engaging way. He is very learned, Bréhier, wise in his approach and not at all like everybody else who explains Plotinus: he comes at everything from one single, fundamental tension. I think Blumenthal is a radish. Learning is now conducted without humanity or elegance, by a kind of madness of method, largely, part of our civilization’s longing to hear the toilet in which it resides flush.

Be that as it may, introductions are important when it comes to Plotinus, because he was so different, so great, and so hard to just pick up and figure out. Plotinus, let me say again, was very great, a serious man. He is worth knowing by anybody interested in that which is worthwhile. What he is not, however, is readily accessible. For me, you have to know his system first, and then he is negotiable. No doubt there are persons who can just pick up a treatise by Plotinus and figure it out, for the rest of us there are necessary introductions.