Thursday, March 26, 2009

Notes for Thinking, Links for Noting

* Regan Penaluna discusses Masham and Astell at First Things.

* P. S. Ruckman, Jr. recently had a fascinating post about Hubert Huse Bigelow. Bigelow was a businessman who was put in a federal penitentiary for two years for failure to pay income taxes (this was 1924, so the Sixteenth Amendment had only just recently been passed). When he got out he started hiring hundreds of ex-convicts and seem to have had nary a problem from doing so.

* Here and there one finds philosophical works that, while minor in significance, are nonetheless exquisitely charming, and nearly perfect within their own modest limits. One very good candidate for this class is Minucius Felix's Octavius, a beautifully written philosophical dialogue on divine providence. In it Minucius (the narrator) is walking on a beach with some friends, Octavius and Caecilius; they stop to watch some boys skipping stones across the water, but Caecilius turns the discussion to philosophical matters, arguing that in human affairs there is nothing certain. It's hard to find in a good translation -- the better ones available online are old enough that it is difficult to see just how charming the work is. Looking at the limited preview allowed on Google Book, though, it looks like Graeme Wilbur Clarke's translation is worth picking up.

* Margaret Osler reviews Catherine Wilson's Epicureanism at the Origins of Modernity.

* Alas, too true: Foxe's Book of Martyrs: American Edition (ht). It exasperates me how easily some people slip into whining about such matters.

* Henry Karlson discusses Western views of Eastern Catholics. Roman Catholics tend to have the bad, bad habit of assuming that because the Pope is first among bishops they are first among Catholics and that Roman Catholic ways are the 'real' ways of doing things, both of which are utter nonsense.

* Thurstan's World is a small but neat website dealing with forge-and-anvil-style metalworking.

* The Africa Windmill Project (ht)

* John Farrell discusses Updike and Hartwell on why science fiction is a minor genre.

* Speaking of genres that fail to live up to their potential (although in a different way), I came across recently the trope (common enough, and largely right) of how bad the Christian Music genre is. It's a slightly misleading trope, of course, since there is lots of music that is both Christian and great: most of Gospel, for instance, which is a distinct genre, and you find songs throughout most genres that obviously fit both criteria. Part of the problem is that it's a grab-bag genre, like 'Pop'; and worse, it is often a copycat genre, engaging in mimicry of other genres. And I think, to add on to the list of reasons why it so often fails, its dominant aesthetic value is what is known as 'uplift' -- a word that jumps up with crazy frequency in advertisements for Christian music, and which as a goal almost guarantees nonsense and is not in any way an especially spiritual goal. And so you get a genre filled with sugar-fluff trying to use shortcuts to induce an emotional state rather than higher-quality work that could dominate it if it sought the means to speak the truth, along the lines of (for instance) Dion DiMucci's The Truth Will Set You Free or Still in the Spirit, or Johnny Cash's God's Gonna Cut You Down or When the Man Comes Around, or Bob Dylan's When He Returns or When You Gonna Wake Up. It wouldn't be so bad, except that people usually don't make a distinction between "Christian music," the genre of generic, derivative, copycat music, and "Christian music," music that is Christian, which necessarily includes things like Gospel, which is a vastly more creative genre and only rarely sugar-fluffy (and often more genuinely uplifting because of it), and serious Christian music in other genres.

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