Saturday, April 07, 2012

Night Hath Morrow

Resurrection Eve
by Christina Georgina Rossetti


He resteth: weep not;
The living sleep not
With so much calm.
He hears no chiding
And no deriding,
Hath joy for sorrow,
For night hath morrow,
For wounds hath balm,
For life's strange riot
Hath death and quiet.
Who would recall him
Of those that love him?
No fears appall him,
No ills befall him;
There's nought above him
Save turf and flowers
And pleasant grass.
Pass the swift hours,
How swiftly pass !
The hours of slumber
He doth not number;
Grey hours of morning
Ere the day's dawning;
Brightened by gleams
Of the sunbeams,
By the foreseeing
Of resurrection,
Of glorious being,
Of full perfection,
Of sins forgiven
Before the face
Of men and spirits;
Of God in heaven,
The resting-place
That he inherits.

8 April 1847.

Tomb

What is a tomb? A mark of freedom bursting on us all,
by which, now freed from prison of this earthly life
and all the bars it places on true happiness, we rise
to know a thing unknown beneath this earthly sun.
For all of human joy a limit soon will reach,
some ceiling made of steel, a violent bound,
and never shall we break it; weakling human hands
too fleshly are to smash it. Thus we wait and wait
until the great dark angel with his deeply violet wings
brings evening to our eyes and, reaching out, destroys our sky.
Yes, human joy has bounds until those bounds are made to die.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Music on My Mind



Sela, "Via Dolorosa." I don't normally think of Dutch as a very singable language -- songs in Dutch usually sound like spitting contests. But I've always thought this song works well for the language. It helps that this version, which is not the one I've usually heard, has a softer woman's voice. The most famous version of this song is Sandi Patty's English/Spanish version, which is decent, but always seems a bit oversung to me.

The Pelican

'Who taught the pelican her tender heart to carve?'
No, not Nature, though some cast all things to her;
The blood flows freely down the channels from the heart,
making chicks to live where once their corpses were,
for life is in the blood and bright maternal care
that labors to bring life and gives its blood for grace,
for mothers will risk all when no one else will dare:
with life from in herself she will their death replace.
See thus the emblem drawn of one whose arms spread wide,
who, laboring us to life, restored us when He died.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Angel of the Apocalypse

April 5 is the feast of St. Vincent Ferrer, who is an interesting saint, since he was a firm supporter of an antipope. In 1378 a succession dispute broke out for the Papacy. The Papacy had been located at Avignon for quite some time at this point, but a strong popular push (as in, danger of widespread riots) had made the Cardinals feel it necessary to return the papacy to Rome, thus leading to the election of Urban VI. Urban turned out to be a rather unpleasant man, though, and, exasperated, most of the Cardinals left Rome and, despite the fact that Urban had been legitimately elected and was still there, elected Clement VII. Yes, geniuses that they were, the Cardinals tried to elect two men Pope, thus causing the worst crisis in Christendom to that point, and arguably ever. There had been antipopes before, but they were put forward by factions; never before had the College of Cardinals itself actually put an antipope forward. Since Urban was in possession in Rome, Clement went back to Avignon. The Avignon Papacy, as such, had been a somewhat unfortunate episode, but the New Avignon Papacy, as we might call it, weakened the Church by splitting allegiances, guaranteed the spread of corruptions and abuses, and caused no end of confusion among the faithful. It also caused an international crisis, since the French and Spanish kingdoms and their allies recognized Clement as legitimate and the rest of Europe recognized Urban as legitimate. It became even worse in that rival factions in kingdoms with shaky succession laws attempted to manipulate the division to their advantage, supporting whichever one would recognize their claim. And there was no obvious end in sight: after Clement died in 1389, Benedict XIII was elected by the Avignon cardinals, and after Urban died in 1394, Boniface IX was elected by the cardinals still loyal to Rome.

Ferrer and his family, being half Scottish and half Spanish, were supporters of Benedict XIII, and all of Ferrer's preaching was done under Avignon authority. Castile, which which Ferrer became associated, would eventually withdraw support from Benedict XIII due to the Council of Constance in 1414 (at which point there were three papal lines, a third having started at Pisa by an utterly inept attempt to end the schism), and it is utterly unclear what Ferrer's role was; some say he opposed the withdrawal of support, being loyal to Benedict XIII to the end, and others that he reluctantly recommended it, and if the latter, it is unclear the reason. In any case, the Council of Constancy did not end the stubborn Avignon line, which continued for 25 more years, but cleared up most of the confusion, since only the Kingdom of Aragon continued to recognize it, and while there were plenty of people who continued to think that Benedict XIII was the true Pope, virtually nobody thought any of his Avignon successors were. It is, again, unclear what Ferrer's own position was. Most of our sources about most of Ferrer's life are inconsistent with each other, for that matter, so there's a lot we don't know about Ferrer, although there is enough that we have some notion of the shape of his life, and we do have some of his works.

Ferrer was often called the 'Angel of the Apocalypse' or 'Angel of the Last Judgment' because of his extensive preaching journeys (cf. Revelation 14:6-7).

Mandatum Novum Do Vobis

Today is Maundy Thursday. We actually don't know with complete certainty the reason it's called Maundy, although the majority view is that it comes from the Latin for John 13:34, Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another as I have loved you." which is associated with the day. A minority opinion holds that it instead derives (via French) from the family of words related to mendicare, to beg. So it's either Mendicant Thursday or Mandate Thursday, take your pick. But even if the mendicare etymology is right, it's the Mandate that people remember.

I remember once long ago, days of yore when I was just a boy, we attended a Southern Baptist church in Carlsbad, New Mexico, and at one evening service, a musician named Tony Elenburg gave a concert. The two songs I remember from that night both had to do with Holy Thursday: "It's Just the First Farewell" and "Wash Their Feet". The chorus of the latter, which is about the context for the Mandatum, I remember very clearly. I was curious as to whether it could be found online, and as it turns out, you can listen to it free at MySpace Music. Not the most extraordinary of musical compositions, but after all these years I still remember it from that night, so it made a mark.

The Maronites call Holy Thursday the Thursday of Mysteries, because it is the origin of the Eucharist and also of Holy Orders (while Protestants read the foot-washing as a general sign of service and often as a symbol of the Crucifixion, Catholics have also traditionally read it in light of passages like Exodus 30:17-21 or 40:30-32, and thus as the beginning of Christ's institution of the priesthood).

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Spy Wednesday

Today is Wednesday in Holy Week; one of the other names for Wednesday in Holy Week is Spy Wednesday, because of the events associated with it:

One of the Twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot,
went to the chief priests and said,
"What are you willing to give me
if I hand him over to you?"
They paid him thirty pieces of silver,
and from that time on he looked for an opportunity to hand him over.

It's the day of the wolf in sheep's clothing, of the subversive Fifth Column, of the worm in the apple, of the corruption that eats from within. The Church may rise as high as is imaginable in the Palm Sundays of its history, Christ in the forefront and palms at the feet; but there is always a Spy Wednesday.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

A Sign of Second-Rate Philosophy

A good post by Graham Harman:

To go back to the title of this post, I would say that one sign of second-rate philosophy is philosophy that is able to judge other philosophy only according to whether it agrees or disagrees with the explicit propositional content of that philosophy. It would be like me hating Tristan Garcia simply because I’m a vegetarian but Garcia criticizes vegetarianism in Forme et objet.

This is a very big issue for anyone who works in History of Philosophy, one that constantly comes up in one form or another.

Properly Moral Defeasibility

I was thinking about moral defeasibility and moral defeaters today. In particular, I was thinking about the fact that, for instance, if A accuses B of pride and does so only out of pride himself, that this is a sort of moral defeat for the accusation. (Actually showing this is difficult, but I think it explains at least some uses of tu quoque in moral cases, and clearly it's an important phenomenon in moral terms.) A very good example is dishonesty: an accusation is undercut if the accusation itself is due to dishonesty (and this is so even if it is accidentally right). I'm not sure if all vices work this way. Some allow for this defeasibility very easily, like dishonesty; others are more complicated, and so I don't know if there are any vices that can't, under some circumstance, however rare, allow for this kind of defeat.

I've been trying to find if anyone else talks about the subject, with no luck; when people talk about 'moral defeaters' they usually just mean ordinary defeaters for arguments with moral content (i.e., they are ordinary arguments), which is a waste of a good label. These, however, are properly moral defeaters -- identifying dishonesty in and of itself undercuts any claims in which it is too closely involved, due to the way the vice affects reasoning. This is an important part of how people argue, so I would have expected there to be something about it. I would have expected virtue epistemologists to say something about this, but I haven't been able to find anything. If anyone knows of anything, let me know.

All Mankind and All I Love and Me

Tuesday in Holy Week
by Christina Rossetti


By Thy long-drawn anguish to atone,
Jesus Christ, show mercy on Thine own:
Jesus Christ, show mercy and atone
Not for other sake except Thine own.

Thou Who thirsting on the Cross didst see
All mankind and all I love and me,
Still from Heaven look down in love and see
All mankind and all I love and me.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Don Juan and Casanova

MrD must be feeling like a fight; he has more energy than I for dealing with these people. But it started me thinking about Don Juan and Casanova. We often lump Casanova and Don Juan together, but the two types are very different; radically different personalities, and very different accounts of how seduction works. The difference between them (besides the fact that Casanova was a real man and Don Juan a fictional character) can be roughly stated in a very simple way: Casanova was a failed intellectual, and Don Juan was a woman.

Giacomo Casanova more than anything wanted to go into medicine, but was forced by his guardian to go into law, which he hated. He hated his profession. More than that, he was intellectually ambitious: one of Casanova's lifelong ambitions was to be taken seriously as a serious thinker, one of the great contributors to civilization, and in consequence he spent his life going from place to place to hobnob with the famous minds of his day. He never managed it. Everywhere he went, it was his reputation as a seducer, not as a philosopher, that preceded him. While he did develop many friendships with important eighteenth-century intellectuals, he never was taken very seriously. It's interesting, as a philosopher, to read Casanova's Story of My Life; you can see he has a lot of potential, but there's still always a shallowness to his thought, and it is difficult not to conclude that this shallowness is connected with his lifestyle, which was largely devoted the pursuit of pleasure, which he once called the chief business of his life. He was constantly bored, so it is unsurprising that he turned to gambling and sex, but gambling and sex would henceforth keep him from the greatness he really wanted. And even worse, his extracurricular activities brought him down in a way that they have often brought would-be intellectuals down: he was arrested and thrown into a prison cell with nothing to do but reflect on the failures of his life. He claims to have made a daring escape in a story involving all sorts of intrigue and adventure -- he certainly escaped, but may have embroidered the details. His experience in prison had made him realize that he had wasted his life and that he needed to do more. Unfortunately, his choice for doing this was to become a con artist; he went around pretending to do magic. He had an almost perfect memory, so he could easily perform feats that others thought amazing, and he was quite clever and ingenious, so he could dupe a fool as well as anyone. From there he went on to spying, and then, after a failed mission, to fleeing. After some time, he eventually tried to start over yet again, beginning a translation of the Iliad, which he did eventually publish (it flopped). He got into a famous philosophical dispute with Voltaire; nothing much came of it. His last words were said to be have been, "I have lived as a philosopher and I die as a Christian," and he really meant both, but he seems to have had a pretty liberal idea of what counted in both cases, and certainly he is not really remembered as either. His name went down in history, and was remembered, but not for what he most wanted to be remembered for. Instead, of course, he was remembered for seducing women and, in his lifetime, for having escaped prison; his very fame was a mark of the sort of failure that haunted him throughout his life. Charles de Ligne once said he knew everything but the things in which he thought himself expert -- Casanova considered himself great at literary comedy, and his comedies were unfunny; he thought himself a great and underappreciated philosopher, but his philosophical works were barely philosophical-- and it is the same Charles de Ligne who gave what could perhaps be considered the motto of his life: "He is proud for the reason that he is nothing."

The irony, of course, is that all the great intelligence was really there, all the native philosophical talent, and it was precisely this that gave him his reputation as a seducer. Casanova was not a beautiful man, and due to a rather hard-lived life became uglier over time. But he was always successful with women because of his wit and ingenuity: he strategized seductions, took the intelligence of women seriously and listened and argued with them accordingly, analyzed them carefully and exploited their weaknesses, charmed them and eased their guilt with his witty words and jokes. But the success of his intellect here was the root of its ruin in matters he thought genuinely important. Hardly anyone reads Casanova, and no one reads him to find profound thought.

Don Juan is very different. He is a fictional libertine, passionately devoted to seducing women and spending the rest of the time fighting their husbands, brothers, and fathers. There are several different versions of him, but the variation is around a core set of ideas. People tend not to remember the basic story, which is unfortunate, because it's an interesting one -- the story of Don Juan is about a man dragged down to hell by a man he murdered, the ghost of the father of one of his conquests, and he faces down the Devil, impudent to the last. The Devil tells him that everyone in hell has a job to do, and that Don Juan, since he was such a fool, will be a jester. Don Juan protests that he deserves more and boasts about how his conquests prove him to be more of a man than any other man. The Devil then proposes a game: the Devil will concede and Don Juan will get his way if only he can correctly remember the name of just one of the women he has seduced. A long line of images of women parade by him; some he cannot remember at all, some he gives the wrong name for, some he comes close with but cannot quite get the name right, until only one woman is left. "Ah," says the Devil, "here is the one and only beautiful woman you seduced who truly loved you with all her heart." Don Juan looks at her and doesn't know who she is at all. So the Devil wins, as he usually does, and in more ways than one.

Different versions will emphasize or modify different things about the basic story, but it's striking in practically every version. One of the things that ends up puzzling people who come to the Don Juan tradition is that critic after critic through the centuries, especially in the Spanish tradition, diagnose Don Juan as effeminate and even homosexual. That is not what one would expect to be said of the legendary seducer of women. But the Spaniards are right, and anyone can see it if they look more closely. Don Juan is handsome, but in almost every branche of the tradition in which his physical appearance is described, he is described in feminine terms. He is a pursuer of pleasure, and, except for his constant involvement in fighting (which he actually can't avoid, simply because of what he does) and the seduction of women itself, he usually avoids every masculine occupation and task. Casanova seduces by out-thinking his targets, trapping them intellectually and turning their own feelings against them; Don Juan, however, is all feeling to Casanova's reasoning. So much so that he takes on the attributes that long literary prejudice -- in which women are less rational and more emotional than men -- attributes to women. Don Juan seduces woman by being mentally like them; they give in to him because they fall in love with a darker version of themselves reflected in him. Don Juan does what he does by playing the role of the Seductress; he just happens to be a man doing it to women. Practically every literary trope, every stereotype, associated with the belle dame sans merci, with the heartless woman leaving a trail of broken hearts, is applied, in one version or other, to Don Juan. He has an almost pathological indifference to the emotional suffering of others -- expressed in the same terms in which poets talk about the heartless woman. He loves only himself -- in the same way the poets say the heartless woman does. He is manipulative in everything he does in order to get the pleasure he wants -- just like the literary stereotype of the heartless woman.

This is very subtle in Spanish and Italian versions of the story, but undeniably there. It comes out in full force in the major English version of the story, though, that of Byron. Indeed, it becomes so obvious in Byron's version that it's impossible to avoid. Byron's Don Juan (the J is an English and not a Spanish J) is described in overwhelmingly feminine terms; when he is compared to legendary and mythological figures, it is usually to female ones; and it goes so far that Don Juan ends up wearing women's clothing in order to sneak into a sultan's harem. And one of the things that is noticeable in Byron's Don Juan, since Byron spends so much time on the mode of seduction, is that Don Juan doesn't actually do much. He is almost completely passive all the way through. Byron's Don Juan seduces by taking such a passive stance that women are forced into the role of the sexual aggressor: they respond to him in the ways associated with male lust because he sexually objectifies himself so completely; they chase him because he does nothing but make himself chase-able. Women find him irresistible because he makes himself the woman of the relationship, i.e., because he takes on the role, and enages in the actions, that are traditionally assigned to women.

It's generally thought that there's more than a little of Byron himself in his Don Juan, and we see exactly the same thing in the author, albeit not so blatantly. Byron was a handsome man admired for his almost feminine features; Camille Paglia notes somewhere that almost every painting we have of Byron depicts him in poses usually reserved for women with beautiful necks. His friends described his voice as extremely pleasant, but more effeminate than you would expect; he was extraordinarily charming but also hysterically emotional (in ways that reminded his friends of an exaggerated stereotype of a woman). He was very fussy about his appearance. He used curling in his papers to make his naturally curly hair even curlier, was so terrified of becoming fat that he almost certainly was anorexic, and may have been bulimic as well. And he was, of course, a womanizer. This sort of elaborately effeminate but still male heterosexuality, marked just barely off from the stereotype of femininity by biology and a focused athleticism derived solely from necessity, is a perfect fit; if we did not know better we might think Don Juan a loose copy of Byron himself.

There's a longstanding literary trope about the danger of a woman falling in love with herself. Perhaps the purest form of this is Milton's Eve. Newly created and newly awake, Eve looks around and discovers her equal when she accidentally looks into a pool. Because she is brand new and doesn't understand the concept of a reflection yet, she is delighted at the beauty and vivacity of her new companion. God informs her of her mistake and tells her that her true companion is coming; she looks up, sees Adam -- and finds him a little disappointing. Of course, being completely innocent, she quickly learns to enjoy him for his own sake and love him for all the things she is not, but it is also a foreshadowing of the weakness -- it is not yet a flaw -- that will eventually be her downfall: her attention can be drawn by a sufficiently attractive image of herself, and this is precisely what the Serpent will exploit, by giving her a mental image of herself that is splendid and telling her that she can be that if she will only taste a bit of fruit. Eve's circumstances are unusual; only in her case can the trope be that blatant, because only she can look at her own image with complete innocence and no self-doubt. But more complicated variations of the trope are easy enough to find. But it is precisely this trope on which the character of Don Juan builds: women are seduced by him because the fall in love with the image of woman -- feminine, but also passionate, unrestrained, devoted to pleasure -- that they see in him. They want to be with him because they want to be him. And, of course, he is narcissistic: what he delights in when he looks in his lover's eyes is not his lover or her eyes but how impressive he looks reflected in them. Thus she pursues herself as reflected in him as he pursues himself reflected in her. Seduction becomes a sort of interpersonal narcissism, in which Don Juan is irresistible to women because (in terms of literary stereotypes) he is exactly what a woman would be if a woman just happened to be a man.

It should go without saying that this is all literary convention and trope, not rigorous psychology; poets may make things up, and when what they say corresponds to reality it is sometimes not because they have deep insight but because we are imitating poetry.

The difference between Casanova and Don Juan, then, is the difference between seduction by mind games and seduction by passionate rapport, between reason and passion; what they share is that they are both excessively devoted to pleasure. What they also both share is failure: Casanova fails to find his destiny, thus ending up as a famous nobody; and Don Juan fails to find himself, thus ending up in hell.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Poem Drafts

Abacus

The abacus that is our brain
keeps count of pleasure, rest, and pain
with double entry, red and black,
to balance gain and what we lack;
yet reason is no string of beads
but calculator's thinking deeds.


Mallarmé

The only poems Mallarmé,
that god-infested man,
ever brought to light of day
were laid out with a plan.
His ink he made to be jet black,
his page was white as cream;
he wrote no verse, just verse's lack,
and published it in dreams.


Promise

In truth, my dear, I do not see
that you have any claim on me,
or heart's insurance, or a word
that chains me down when it is heard;
but then I never was the kind
who tangled up with vines that bind
and strangle. Yet if you will find --
on some far quest in some far land
where Serengetti mountains stand
or by Brazilian rivercourse
or at the Nile's distant source --
my heart, then we will have a deal
that I will hold; and none will steal,
not time nor death nor Fortune's wheel,
my love, and it will stand and stay
till trumpet rings in Judgment Day.

Links of Note

And while there's some humor, there's also some serious.

* Ronald Knox and Sherlock Holmes

* And speaking of which, everyone should always read some Ronald Knox on April Fool's Day. I recommend Reunion All Round.

* The history of the art of diagramming sentences. I always enjoyed diagramming, myself, although it is pretty clear that the English language exceeds the bounds of any strict method of diagramming.

* Jason Zarri on Singer's "Famine, Affluence and Morality"

* This post, and the comments thread, on the Korean fear of fan death is something I found completely fascinating.

* Sandra Rose calls attention to the worrisome phenomenon of emergency room profiling.

* Evelyn Waugh comments on Joseph Heller's Catch-22.

* Joe Heschmeyer recovers a missing question from Aquinas's Summa Theologiae, on the important subject of zombies.

* I mentioned before that the Coptic Pope of Alexandria is chosen by a mix of election and drawing a name out of a hat by a blind child. It turns out that the Church of England has decided to determine its next Archbishop of Canterbury by Twitter. No, seriously; this isn't an April Fool's Day joke.

This actually reminds me of one of the very best episodes in that excellent series, Yes, Minister (actually, the second season, Yes, Prime Minister), "The Bishop's Gambit," in which the PM Hacker has to determine who to recommend to the Queen. The Church Commissioners provide him with two recommendations: Canon Stanford, the favored candidate, who is a modernist (and thus doesn't believe in any of the major doctrines of Christianity), and Dr. Harvey, who is a fervent Christian but also a disestablishmentarianist. And things move on from there. It's the ultimate send-up of the Church of England. One of my favorite bits of dialogue:

Sir Humphrey: "The Church is looking for a candidate to maintain the balance."
Master of Baillie College: "What balance?"
Sir Humphrey: "Between those that believe in God and those that don't."

On the plus side, as the article notes, the Twitter component will likely give John Sentamu, the current Archbishop of York, an edge, which is possibly good because he doesn't seem to be either a modernist or a disestablishmentarianist. Of course, Sentamu is also more outspoken than Williams ever was, but he is also in some ways very stereotypically Anglican; at the same time, while he used to be popular among liberal Anglicans, as Brendan O'Neill notes, he has lost a lot of that due to his position on gay marriage.