Mr. Pye, by Mervyn Peake

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Mr PyeMr Pye by Mervyn Peake

Mr. Pye is Peake’s successful attempt at a fable, and as such it has a moral. It is the kind of moral, in the end, you’d expect from Mervyn Peake, not entirely useless–more of a gentle reminder in a style perilously close to being overdone, but not quite.

How shall I describe the personalities that Peake draws? The personalities encountered on the island of Sark are as characteristic as any in Gormenghast. They are almost cartoons and would fail in any setting other than Gormenghast but that Peake is using them here for a fable, for which they’re fabulous. They are a bit thicker than characters in an allegory, but not in every dimension. Peake’s characters are part of the dramatic landscape, and he never takes any of them entirely seriously.

Peake is good at drawing a scene, at drawing it out, one might say, and making a great dramatic point out of very little action. He paints, one sometimes thinks, more than he writes. And if you enjoy an often vertiginous and always overcrowded zest of atmosphere and description, then you’ll like Mervyn Peake.

The book is about a little fellow of missionary zeal who is given what he seems to believe. It is set on the Channel Island of Sark, where Peake lived. It is a fantastic but thought-provoking story. The result is humorous indeed, very humorous at times. I think one of Peake’s great virtues is maintaining a sense of proportion in the bewildering landscapes and situations he sets himself to describe. If you don’t find the grotesque when used intelligently off-putting, if you want a lighter version of what you get in Gormenghast with perhaps more of a resolution than the famed trilogy, try this.

Visions of Politics: Volume I: Regarding Method, by Quentin Skinner

Questions of method are important. In our time, you can ignore them and make a fool of yourself, or you can pay attention to them and hope to avoid a few mistakes you would not have otherwise. I suppose that since I’ve been born to the postmodern condition, I have an affinity for these considerations; I don’t mind considerations of method at all. I do think it has more to do with my being a Platonist, but I was also born to the postmodern condition. There is nobody more interested in questions of historical method than John Lukacs, and I enjoy how he does it. When I first read R.G. Collingwood’s Idea of History, I was exhilarated.

The problem with Lukacs, however, is that he eschews jargon. Part of his concern for historical method is that he believes historians should have no jargon. And when it comes to writing history, I think he is right. But when it comes to discussing method and asking what history is, and does, perhaps he is not, for all that he’s so careful about his words. It may be, however, that his problem is that he often discusses method in the midst of doing history.

Quentin Skinner’s book is about historical method, which is about hermeneutics. How do we interpret, what can we know, what did the author intend, what does that give us–those kinds of things. And the truth is that while the going can be heavy on jargon, what with Foucault, Ayer, and all the rest having waded into the waters of hermeneutics, I think he has persuaded me that it is necessary.

Which does not mean he is tedious. He is anything but tedious in his first essay which is a sustained exercise of wit the like of which one is sure scholarship seldom is treated to. Skinner takes on the hermeneutical debates of the previous century and steers his way through them, conceding what is uncertain, making careful distinctions, providing useful arguments. I found he is a helpful writer, not an unhelpful, providing refreshers and reminders when the going was necessarily heavy.

One of the things I realize is that he’s part of a conversation to which I have not been tuned in and in the midst of which I have largish lacunae and bewilderments. I don’t know how much of that conversation is in my future, but I do want to read more Skinner. I picked him up because he’d been recommended to me by Trueman. He told me Skinner was to him what Lukacs–from what I was telling him–was to me.

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The Inverted WorldThe Inverted World by Christopher Priest

Here is a book that I don’t want to give away the ending for. It is the kind of book that can’t have a foreword, but can have an afterword. Inverted World is a work of hard SF most of the way through, but in the end it isn’t. So how is that possible?

Well, I won’t tell you. The whole story is about finding out what is going on, and let me tell you: it is compelling. Not that it is well written, but it is well conceived. There are moments of unnecessary detail, moments that are not presented to the best dramatic advantage, and other such mistakes. The writing is a bit tedious early on . . . and, well, throughout, though it improves near the end. If one of the rules of hard SF is that the writer has to be a literary amateur, then this book qualifies. But for all that, once you get into it, if you make it past the prologue, which I almost didn’t, the first sentence of the first chapter is arresting, and it really has to be for you to keep going.

It is a story about a dilemma, and when you have at last discovered the dilemma, then you are in for a further surprise. It is a story about a city that is drawn on rails over the land, escaping from something and seeking a mysterious ‘optimum’ which is not, apparently, stationary, and the great question is, Why? Priest did ingeniously plan the reader’s discoveries, and in the end one is glad one stuck with the story and found out.

I picked it up because it has been reprinted by the New York Review of Books, and I thought it had to be well written to be republished by them. It isn’t, but it is compelling, and I see why they did it. The story is supposed to arouse questions, and in the end it succeeds. It asks questions about perception and necessity, and if not in the best or more useful way, still it asks them, drives at them, and ends the book with them hanging, haunting. Paranoid? Yes, that too, but what other reason is there to read hard SF that is not hard SF?

In the end, it seems to the story is subversive to hard SF because technology IS the problem. The thing is ingenious in its dilemma and not without its technicalities. How accurate those technicalities are, I do not know, but they maintain the illusion, and that’s what’s needed, no more.

The Poetry of C.S. Lewis

It seems to me that Lewis wrote poetry to argue a point. All his poems, from what I can tell, are arguments. If he has an argument to make, he uses the music of rhyme and meter and the charm of a good turn of phrase to make it. But he is always making a point.

Someone once told me his poetry is very accessible. I think it is perhaps more than that: it is very obvious, and it is obvious because he wants you to get the point. If you think about it, this is what he was always trying to do: find formal expression to an argument he wanted to get across. Even his advice about prose style is always to make sure you leave no room for misunderstanding.

But gaining others over to your point of view is not the chief aim of poetry, only sometimes is it the incidental result. True, poets are trying to show us something they’ve seen, but they are not also evaluating it in absolute terms, only summoning it to view. Of course, there is appraisal implied in language, and poetry takes advantage of this. But there is a more contemplative appraisal and a more scrutinized. There is an invitation to appreciation and the more narrow instruction that says: this but no other appreciation.

I don’t know to what extent I can say art works by suggestion. I do know it does, just not to what extent: whether always somewhat or whether always chiefly or only a little. But I do know that poetry works what it does best when it accomplishes most by suggestion, and I conclude that that’s the problem with Lewis’s poems: they do not suggest, they go always go further rather than leaving the conclusion in the person. He was too much of an objectivist, I think, a bit too didactic with poems. If that is right, then there should be a kind of thickness about them, a grossness rather than delicacy, a sclerosis of determined vision. He was always a robust chap, from all I’ve read.

Two Observations Gathered

Jaroslav Pelikan every once in a while makes, in the course of his five volume history of Christian doctrine, the odd observation that is arresting. Here are two that have stayed with me.

The first is that the theology of the church in the early ages was dominated by bishops. They argued, thought, wrote–in short, theologized. But then in the middle ages this changes. No longer are the bishops busy administrating theologizing, the monks are. And then there is a final transition at the Reformation when rather than monks doing the theologizing, now it has moved to professionals in universities. University professors theologize in our age. So it went from the bishop’s chair in the church, to the monastery, where it transitioned into the university.

The second is that whereas the sacrament of the early church was baptism–they wrote about it, prepared elaborately for it, explained it, preached all around it–in the middle ages the eucharist became the prominent sacrament. Isn’t that interesting? It is as if the earlier age were concerned with baptizing things and the second more on nourishing.

Winding Down

We are in that familiar stage of winding things down. You start detaching yourself from a place in an odd way, it seems to me. First you’ve looked away and then your gaze has settled on that next distance, but after that you look at where you are and you begin to pull the attachments out.

My books, for example, are being rearranged in order of size. I do that because for one thing it is easier to pack them and for another I just enjoy organizing them. I don’t have a settled system, but I do like thinking about the problem and exploring the various solutions. I like having all my books of wonder on one shelf, the non-fiction on another, and the fiction that does not fall into the category of wonder on a third. I mix the nonfiction books by my authors of wonder in with their works of wonder, but it doesn’t have to be that way. I’ve done them all alphabetically, and sometimes I do them by age.

One of the things arranging them by size, or just rearranging them does, is bring to mind those I have not yet read, or mean to re-read, and which I’ve kind of forgotten about. So the detachment is has its stimulations.

But it serves mainly to deaden one to the place. By detaching yourself you’re deadening the connections. I am not so sentimental as to think I’ll leave something behind. There is little to regret about leaving Columbus, OH. But all places–even Columbus–in some way are interesting and have their interestingness, and detaching yourself you are deadening some of that. I have been glad for how much more it rains in Columbus than in semi-arid Minneapolis, and I’ve read many things here, and had wide access to books, though not unlimited.

Of course, you form new interests in the place you’re going, and there are potentially more there. I’m looking forward to being in driving distance of the winter sea. I’m looking forward to being again in a community of people learning, though who knows how it will compare since I know understand that Central Seminary was less trammelled than some places can be. I’m looking forward to learning about the people of eastern Pennsylvania, because though they are not, still they are my people; my kind have deeper roots there.

It makes me reflect that part of my nomadic impulse is that I’m not from anywhere, and that, in a way, is to be from everywhere since you look on a new place without the same expectations as a person who is from somewhere does.

Under the Circumstances

Nothing new, but something else on the Inklings and the circumstances they faced and left.

And nothing wild-eyed, but sensible observations on the present circumstances. I got the idea from reading and listening to Trueman that when he uses the word ‘culture’ he means the world and the enemy, and so he uses the word ‘counterculture’ to speak of his attitude toward. I have the feeling he finds these circumstances congenial to his habits of being.

Pattern

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Some believe the slumber
Of trees is in December
When timber’s naked under sky
And squirrel keeps his chamber.

But I believe their fibres
Awake to life and labour
When turbulence comes roaring up
The land in loud October,

And plunders, strips, and sunders
And sends the leaves to wander
And undisguises prickly shapes
Beneath the golden splendour.

The form returns. In warmer,
Seductive days, disarming
Its firmer will, the wood grew soft
and put forth dreams to murmur.

Into earnest winter
With spirit alert it enters;
The hunter wing and the hound frost
Have quelled the green enchanter.

-C.S. Lewis

Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel

Wolf Hall (Thomas Cromwell, #1)Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Wolf Hall is about Thomas Cromwell, the man in the machinery of Henry VIII’s tremendous political, ecclesiastical and reproductive decisions. Hilary Mantel is an apostate Catholic, apparently, and I understand that one one of the things she is attempting is to pillory Sir Thomas More as a symbol of unbending religious scruple and prejudice and to whitewash Cromwell as the reasonable, flexible, sensible symbol of religious adaptability . . . and humane compassion.

The book is written in the present tense. The present tense can be annoying for a whole book unless there’s a real point to using that device. In Mantel’s case, it has to do with a sense of immediacy. You are seeing everything from within the imagined consciousness of Thomas Cromwell. It works, and this is her great strength; it gives you the sense of riding along inside of someone else’s head. Everything is told from Cromwell’s point of view, but not in the first person. It is done in the third person but with the immediacy of the present tense. For example: have you ever been in your own train of thought when somebody else is talking to you? When a woman is chattering to a man sometimes, it happens. It happens in Wolf Hall. It is interesting to observe, brilliantly done. This and many other such things: brilliant sentence fragments, brilliant juxtapositions of thought and speech, brilliant glimpses of things Cromwell notices, brilliant shared ironies resulting from viewing all things from the main character’s consciousness without having him speak to you directly.

The result, however, is that Mantel’s religiously adaptable and compassionate (by contemporary standards, if not, for example, by Thomas More’s) consciousness is projected on the subject of Cromwell and interacts with his events. Of course, you don’t go to Shakespeare to get the history right, nor should you go to Wolf Hall. But there are limits to making a symbol out of a character, and gratuitously trashing it. The most troubling thing for me is not that she wants to whitewash Cromwell, understand him sympathetically and perhaps a bit more, but that she wants to do so by crushing the greatest Renaissance humanist of which England can boast: Thomas More. I think that’s inexcusable.

Her best character, the most interesting after the all-pervasive Cromwell, is the Duke of Norfolk. He is comical, rough, bigoted and yet presented as a sympathetic character and given some astonishing lines. And this is more characteristic of her than not. Even More is not wooden, for all he’s distorted; I can’t help thinking that if she could have brought herself to deal with him more as she did with Norfolk, it would have been a more congenial book. There are moments when the distortion is grotesque such as when contemplating a hair shirt used for personal torment, Cromwell imagines the monks “in fury of righteousness, chuckling . . .” a ludicrous juxtaposition, bizarre and overdone.

But the truth is that there isn’t much of that. What there is is the message that the world changes, things we believed once we can no longer hold to, and that reasonable people realize and act on that. Like the times we live in, wouldn’t you say? The world we inhabit is something that we construct at least in part by power structures, and we should have fair, reasonable one’s that favor everyone equally as much as possible.

I don’t entirely disagree. The world we live in is made out of our perceptions. It is naive to think we don’t participate in what we perceive. And we each perceive differently, and societies change in their collective perceptions too. And it seems to me power has to do with it (though it is sometimes exaggerated in the popular interest now given to it, of which the TV adaptation seems to me more illustrative than the novel is): who is in charge, how you perceive and react to that, who can make all the people agree to this law, who can enforce it, etc. The contemplation of what Henry VIII was doing in England, in his time in place, is a fascinating study. And because there was such reproductive urgency, what the women involved perceived, attempted, accomplished or did not, is also interesting (which you can’t say or determine of women in every period of history). What I disagree with is the criteria Mantel seems to have, projected through Cromwell, for judging and changing and adjusting that reality.

I think wonder is lost whenever you lose transcendence, and with wonder the power of beauty is diminished, and that’s when the power struggles become squalid. Beauty is no tyrant: beauty is a queen. Kindness, one also believes, could be more common a citizen in the monarchy of beauty. But I do not think Hilary Mantel wants to help you understand that. Power is her tyrant, and kindness is no commoner, but an rare and remote aristocrat. What is it, one has to ask, makes those who believe in perceived order perceive the world’s order that way?

The Heart of the Unexamined Life

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I was cheered by the scorn for the Northland ‘heart’ expressed in that dubious resort: the IRM (a place of declining entertainment value, alas, which in these latter days has stooped so far as even to link to me). And not without reason. That heart is not so much characterized by any object of its affection, but as a passionate subject: capacious, undiscriminating, passionate, did we say passionate? and definitely just awesome for loving on people, on Geezus, on the lost, on mission, on camping, on Northland, or Northland’s alumni with so much heart, on Grammy nominated rap artists-for-lack-of-a-better-term, on random stuff, and perhaps even on big Al Mohler. If Roger Scruton is right to say that sentimentality is when the perceiving subject eclipses the object that should be in focus, then you have the Northland heart.

About the Northland heart, you have to understand: that was its product. That is what people went there to get, what we* paid for and what people gave to, and what the people working there thought they were striving to impart. There is Scripture to back the idea of the heart being of all things the most important; it is a proper object of care and should be guarded with attention.

I doubt it was too much scrupulous attention to the heart that was the problem though. It is an object of care, but not of satisfaction, and as an object of satisfaction is how it becomes sickening for those who get weary of hearing about it. It’s always a problem to deal frivolously with what you need to take seriously, obvious as that may seem. It is hard on the heart. A search for ordinate affections will be eclipsed by attention to the magnitude of the organ’s increasingly random effusions. If you use the word serious and behave like a clown and never let up, what are people looking to you for direction bound to conclude? That seriousness is just intensity of any kind, however excited. And if they don’t fall for it, they will at least stop looking up to you when it comes to what it serious.

But here is where I will agree with Northland, in name they had the target right. In an age of practicalities and merely utilitarian considerations, when even those who offer Latin talk about its utility and so undermine what they’re offering, when remote, permanent, transcendent are no longer criteria for what you teach, it would be good not to throw the heart out just because Northland has made it an embarrassment. Jesus Christ is coming to look upon it, and to see exactly what it is that you desire, and to give it to you.

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*I didn’t go there for the heart, but there’s no reason for you to believe me. We are responsible for our choices, and going to Northland was a choice I made.

From Another World

Some music sounds as if it beckons from another world. Roger Scruton mentions it somewhere, and he’s right. Think of Bruckner’s 4th symphony or Brahms’ 2nd piano concerto. Listen to those first sounds and you’ll hear what he’s talking about.

And in a way, everything Bach ever wrote sounds that way. It comes from otherwhere. At least I thought so on Sunday when the prelude was a movement from the trio sonatas and the offertory a fugue. It is a sound that welcomes you into a place that is not of this world. It suggests the sacred because the sacred is not common, and it reminds you that you are coming from one place into another. Almost anything by Bach will do that.

It is music that beckons from otherwhere, and yet it is music that from the heart that longs for the transcendent also causes it to leap with cordial consent. I think that is because in that music from otherwhere the Platonical subject can hear the sound of home. Perhaps because I told our organist that, that the sound of Bach is always the sound of home, the idea was in his head and he played it back to me; but I’d like to think it is there to begin with. It is a remote call, reminded me of my exile and pilgrimage, and because it did that it was both a remote and a familiar call.

Here’s a bit of what helps me. Roger Scruton’s Gifford Lectures can be read in a book called The Face of God, or you can listen to him lecturing live here. The quality of his voice in the last lecture is an interesting thing in and of itself. The first lectures have a time of question and answer which also shed light on things. Of course, the substance is noumenal, simply noumenal. And it is the kind of thing you need several washes of exposure to just to profit from rightly. They are not lectures for the lazy, but they are worth the attention.

Gather It Up into a Memory

Northland, the not very reputable mother of my admittedly deserving soul, seems from all I can tell, doomed. For Southern to back out abruptly, sensitive as surely they are to the PR of it–at the least–sounds to me like an iron bell tolling. Of course, I’m very removed from what is going on but when I see the leadership conference, which had Big Al scheduled, now scheduling something that promises more alumni enthusiasm than otherwise, well, I hear the sound of the bell tolling for it.

And it makes sense. If you were to enroll in Boyce college, would you go to the campus where the faculty and seminary, library and institutions of Southern Seminary were–for all that it is in Kentucky–or would you go to the unknown campus set in the winter wastes of northern Wisconsin? There’s the camp ‘ministry’ and there’s no doubt enough of the dwindling foam of American Christianity for a camp to be run with for another few years. But when that 19th Century idea fades further?

Sentimentality has always been one of the worst features of fundamentalism, and dwindling only makes it worse: it makes you cling to exhausted means because there is no power to distinguish these from ends. If it is over, I say, gather it up into memory. We live in an age of transition and many things are passing, good and bad, indifferent and decidedly mingled. It is a good thing for many of the present things to pass into memory; it is a good time to make sure ends are not lost to view, and that memory is not damaged.

Perhaps there is a way around it. But if there is not, the true memory of what happened will be one of the good things that can come out of this–though it will hardly atone for all of us, the alumni from that teeming womb of the undistinguished. Still, the clearer the understanding of how it was, what people thought they were doing, what they actually did, why, when–so important, the when–how it went from beginning to middle to end would be a service to anybody wishing to remember it. Is that wisdom possible? Maybe some of the records, at least, can in the end be lodged at Boyce College, in the catacombs of Louisville, a gift they can afford.

Since Chances to Post Ignorant Dreams Will Eventually Be Driven Out, One Expects, by Knowledge

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When I was waiting in Kentucky, reading Dawson, I came across something that has stuck to me ever since. He made the observation that the cosmos of Galileo, Kepler and Newton was Platonic. (Which is one of the most attractive things about Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, and ironic; he understands some of the wonder and magic of the platonic, though Plotinus would chastise him for what mars the work and spoils its ending, the degradation into the fungoid Gnosticism. Another interesting work that endeavors to preserve that luminous mechanical-mystical cosmology incarnate in the world of objects is The Alternation, by Kingsley Amis, from what I remember. Both books are interesting for that, to me.)

Plato is behind much that is interesting. If there be any magic or wonder of the highest order, there is Plato, so serious, advocating immediate contact, contemplator, sentiment anterior to reason, Reason . . . Reason, circles, numerical mysteries, the contemplation of the gods and the contemplation of God. A mystery of health always begins to grow in the appropriation of Plato, like an oak, which is why he was and is and always will remain the Christian’s philosopher.

I admit, I’m more interested in them as Yeats was, as symbols. They make great symbols don’t they? Build up Plato and then suggest remoter, more ancient and primeval, most connected and better is the figure of Pythagoras: a shadow in the distance coming closer. And Plotinus standing for all who consecrate themselves to the greatest and highest, ascetic, body-scorning, devoted.

I wanted to get into Plotinus, that man who was serious about Plato, that symbol of platonic seriousness which is serious about contemplation, given over to the unending rigorous pursuit of immediate contact. I understand also he was the synthesizer in his time of Plato and Aristotle. Perhaps he yoked Aristotle to the chariot Plato drives. I’d like to understand that. Perhaps I still can. I want to understand the great Plotinus better, though who knows what I will find. After him, only steps down: Porphyry, Iamblicus, and the activities of Julian and Justinian. But also Ambrose and Augustine, dear neo-platonic Augustine who viewed the invisible city.

Nicolas of Cusa is the only one left to me on the list of endnotes from Tozer’s The Knowledge of the Holy (a list of some of the sons and daughters of Plato through the ages, is it not?) whom I have not read too much. He’s right in the period I’m heading into–Latin, Platonic. I might be a Nicolas of Cusa guy, since the cardinal is one my brother sons of Plato.

Wouldn’t it be cool to write a dissertation on the Platonic fraternity? The Platonic Paternity, perhaps: the living mystical core of the holy catholic church. Renaissance and Reformation Platonism . . . Henry Vaughan.

Projects

I printed out my epic fantasy novel. It has been rewritten from scratch. I don’t think any of the words from the original go are in it. The surprising thing about printing it out was the sense of accomplishment. It is a large object, and appears so when it comes out of the uncertain world of pretending to be, which is the computer, and into the world of objects. I think that with another five years’ work it could be finished, maybe even fewer.

* * *

My brother’s project, somewhat greater.

A Spring Day in the Unexamined Life

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There are books that don’t lend themselves to walking and reading and Ernst Bresisach’s Renaissance Europe is one such. Four hours, 100 pages. In four hours you can usually do 200 pages. So the thing is going to take me 12 16 hours to read, rather than the today and tomorrow I had originally thought. Good weather for it though!

Part of the problem is that its is a heavy book; that is a nice workout on the arms, but draws one’s attention away, nagging downward all the time (the higher you can hold the book the faster you’ll walk, usually). Another part of it is that this copy has this ridiculous loose plastic covering glued onto it since the 70’s when it triumphantly entered the Bexley Public Library to be read repeatedly over the years. I have half a mind to help the artificial cover become unglued. Dust jackets, plastic wrappings, all such fiddly adiaphora get in the way of finishing books because they do not permit good and sensible purchase. This book has a durable heavy binding and the weighty paper is stitched. It will endure without the rattly plastic frivolity, O pedantic librarians. The final thing is the ten point font on foot-long pages. I think I’ve probably read 200 pages worth, and the book is just more formidable than it looks.

It is a good book, by the way, organized to the hilt as you probably can surmise, and not tending to induce a wandering of the attention. After the preface, the table of contents, the list of illustration you come on an Analytical Table of Contents that sometimes includes paragraph length subdivisions (I know what you’re thinking, but the answer is no: the pagination there is in Roman numerals; there are before the reader after all that still 404 pages of regular text). He planned his work and worked his plan, and he did it awfully well.

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Just got the complete Dvorak string quartets. I’m starting to look very fit in the string quartet department. We’ll see how good they are, being a complete set, but at least I can begin to become properly familiar with them. I’m such a desultory buyer that I can be looking for something for years at Half-Wit and used book stores. But if I went online and just got stuff, I’d have no reason to go to book stores–used book stores, that is–and I like that so much better.

Mental Toil of the Unexamined Life

The plants are all busy outside. At least, one thinks so when one looks out now that the weather’s warmer. All the humans are sleeping at 3AM, but the plants sleep not. And yet, do I want to say they’re awake?
What are they? Are they the living impulse awakened or the living impulse dormant? They seem to be the living impulse without consciousness, though of course I can’t be sure.* They are the living impulse with the permanence of the place, unmoving, rooted, raising up over the years into the sun and the wind the gratitude the earth feels, casting it back down in showers of autumn leaves. A bit of structure on formless matter imposed for a while, and then gradually dissolved, like all the objects of this world.
Which is why the world of objects cannot be the basis of reality.
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I’ve been reading a few thought-provoking articles found through Arts & Letters Daily. One was written by a guy who teaches evolution at a university in Kentucky. A lot of his students come to school knowing nothing about evolution, and he makes it sound as if many of them reject it. What was interesting was a stray remark that crept in about the imperfections of the human body. He believes we get backaches because our organs are hung from a spine originally meant to be parallel not perpendicular to the ground.
I’ve encountered that sad evolutionary idea in the full melancholy of it in the two works by Michel Faber I’ve read: Under the Skin and The Book of Strange New Things. It represents–at least it suggests that to me–a sense of bitterness about the world and our existence; it is the tragic sense of life, but with resentment, not resignation. Where there was a mystery developing that you then find out is a yawning chasm of insurmountable imperfection only the dimwitted deny. Is it like Blakeian experience, with no innocence of outcome left? Still, the possibility of something better is perceived, and dimly desired. It is tragic because and innocence still lingers, the heart is not altogether stone yet. It is the heart of a tree, however: vegetable and no longer animal, and you can’t help thinking they’re going the wrong way.
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The other article I read was about how the internet itself is changing and what it does to us. It suggested this: if the telephone is a way of being where you are not, of speaking disembodied, then the internet is a way of being what you are not, of existing disembodied. It suggested that to me because that’s how I think about the telephone, which I do not love, and it wanted to say that the telephone was one step and the internet a next step.
It also suggested to me that the present impulse to have tattoos, the whole transgender thing, the ability that now exists beyond quantities that–I think–can safely be encompassed by the category of the deranged of so many to mess surgically and permanently with their outward appearance, their whole body, and at the same time the fad of fitness, of personal image, all this is a kind of internet driven attempt to project oneself even in the world of objects. As if a disembodied existence were colliding with embodied existence with no attention to the underlying reality, to the self that grows. Perhaps that’s why all the issues of gay marriage, and other nonsense of the day seem to have come out of nowhere. They are part of how we think about the world when the internet and all it entails has attained a lodging in our lives the way it has.
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I do think it is interesting how we form our perceptions of how things are. I remember hearing with dismay years back that more and more Christians are social drinkers. Things, I felt, are getting worse. I have not learned from that not to feel sometimes that things are indeed getting worse, but to wonder about the measure I’m using.
For the premillennialist, things are supposed to be getting worse. If that’s your outlook, then you will see it. And often things are getting worse, could get worse than they are, and even might. And if you are an amillennialist things stay the same. For the postmillennialist things are getting better, and it makes sense if you consider that things are improved, sometimes they are even getting better, and could improve more, and even might.
We live in an age of transition, like the tumultuous 16th and 17th centuries. I’m reading Russell Kirk, and he points out how much thinking about what makes life stable came out of those tumultuous times. He’s a good chronicler of ideas, it seems to me. And one of the things he points out is how little design and how much accident goes into the shaping of whole nations and the way people live.
It made me think of Roger Scruton’s elegy for England that is no more. That some living and changing thing is gone is true enough, but the idea of it still yields and will yield whenever it is perceived in the many memorials still mediating it to us, just as Greece which rose splendid of old and destroyed itself still yields and fructifies, just as Europe does which rose up long ago now and committed suicide, but was of old. It makes me wonder about WWII is what it does. Did Britain survive the war only to lose the invisible and shining greatness of Logres? Scruton thinks so. Of course, we evaluate what we have now in terms of what we remember, and we do not always remember accurately. Maybe we didn’t have that much to begin with, one can think, or maybe we have more at present than we think. It had an incarnation that is lost, and that’s a heavy loss. But a thought-provoking loss that makes Logres memorable, and it reaches a new stage of life while fading out of living memory.
That’s perhaps too grand, but I do think it is a kind of squalor of desire to be all tamped down in a kind of frantic dejection about this world. Is it not a vegetative thing, more like a tree? I must be an amillennialist simply by temperament.
* * *
Here are today’s trees, skies, ideas and trajectories. We are subjects incarnate in the world of objects (O thank you Scruton for that insight!) and we do not remain the same. Bad influences arise and take their toll, and they are countered, leavened, mitigated, and even have unexpected outcomes for good. So thought Kirk, at least, and I suppose he must have been an amillennialist.
Innocence of outcome, what you expect: the tree will flourish and the tree will die, but need its wood fall to the forest floor and rot? I remember when I think of these things that Jesus always chided us for having hard hearts, expecting meager and reduced things, being anxious. Not that we are meant to be glib or shallow, but to have a deeper joy beyond the solemn and vast tragedy that fills the limited dimensions of our experience of reality, incarnate in a world of objects with which at present we have no mastering congruity.
Is it a dream? I write these things so deep into the night that it is almost morning.

_________________
*Have you ever noticed how people who hunt think they can get inside an animal’s head? It is one of the oddest things about reading Roger Scruton that he tells you sometimes with certainty what he believes is going on or not going on in an animal’s head. It must be that to hunt you have to study and predict, and that when you make successful predictions you get the idea that you have succeeded at entering the animal’s consciousness and become certain about things which you only imagine. But we know from the Ptolemaic system that successful prediction does not mean you have arrived at the inside truth of a thing.

Reading History

I read the great man’s book on Histories and Fallacies yesterday and learned a few things.

1 – He did grow up near Wales. I was wondering: Gloucestershire. Shall have to see about understanding something of that more.
2 – He studied Latin to an advanced level. Resolved: to finish Wheelock’s and push hard.
3 – There are three books about History he expects his students to have (179-80). Ordered two.
4 – Recommends reading lots of history, the literature of the age, getting as broadly familiar with everything as possible. What could be better? One always fears one will be expected to read everything Evangelical and the option to read anything else is optional. I have no reason to fear this with the great man. If his expectations are high as far as Chaucer and Dante go, so much the better.

Got a nice deal on a two-volume work on the Hundred Year’s War.

A Post

Columbus is having a moody April. Showers, thunderstorms, tempests, shinning emerald grass, trees hoary with moss putting forth diligently the primaveral bud, sunshine and gloom alternating, birds in multitude everywhere. Spring is full upon us.

I’m at the moment enjoying a high tide of good books, reading to the sound of rain. Pelikan, Huizinga, a Waugh revival, Kirk, and a backlog to keep me. To counter the springtime, some autumn from Huizinga:

Symbolism was a poor means of expressing those connections that we know to be essential at time when they rise to consciousness as we listen to music–“Videmus nunc per speculum in aenigmate.” There was an awareness of looking at an enigma yet here were attempts to distinguish the images in the mirror, to explain images through images, and to hold up mirrors to mirrors. The whole world was capsulated in independent figures; it was a tme of overripeness and the falling of blossoms. Thought had become too dependent on figures; the visual tendency, so very characteristic of the waning Middle Ages, was now overpowering. Everything that could be thought had become plastic and pictorial. The conception of the world had reached the quietude of a cathedral in the moonlight in which thought was allowed to rest.

The way he uses the term “reality” in the book is not reassuring, but still Huizinga is tremendous. And speaking of sententiae sprinkled throughout, some advice for preachers and public speakers from antiquity:

Cura oratoris dicturi eos audituros delectat. -Quintillian

Verbum semel emissum volat irrevocabile. – Horace

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