Saturday, July 01, 2017

Miguel de Unamuno, San Manuel Bueno, Mártir

Introduction

Opening Passage:

Ahora que el obispo de la diócesis de Renada, a la que pertence esta mi querida aldea de Valverde de Lucerna, anda, a lo que se dice, promoviendo el proceso para la beatificación de nuestro Don Mauel, o, mejor, San Manuel Bueno, que vue en ésta párroco, quiero dejar aqui consignado , a modo de confesión y sólo Dios sabe, que no yo, con qué destino, todo lo que sé y recuerdo de aquel varón matrarcal que llenó toda la más entrañada vida de mi alma, que fue mi verdadero padre espiritual, el padre de mi espíritu, del mío, el de Ángela Carballino.

My translation:

Now that the bishop of the diocese of Renada, to which belongs this, my village of Valverde de Lucerna, has begun to promote the cause of beatification of our Don Manuel, or, better, San Manuel Bueno, which is what he was for our parish, I wish to leave here written, as a confession, and only God, not I, knows what its end will be, all that I know and remember of that matriarchal man, who filled all the depths of my soul, who was my true spiritual father, the father of my spirit, of the spirit of me, Angela Carballino.

Summary: The picturesque little village of Valverde de Lucerna sits beside a lake that reflects the nearby mountain. Close by is the ruin of an old monastery. According to local legend, there is a medieval town submerged beneath the waters, and if you listen carefully on St. John's Day, you can hear its church bells ringing. Rustic and pastoral, the townspeople quietly continue on their way as they have done for long years past.

The priest of the town is Don Manuel, and he is everything one could possibly want in a priest. He spends his days tending the sick and helping the poor, comforting the brokenhearted and encouraging the anxious, healing divisions and bringing peace to families, administering the sacraments and encouraging the people to pray. He is a fount of joy and consolation for his parishioners. He works incessantly, always putting the needs of others above his own, never pausing in his work, always driven to do more. And the source of the drive, the thing that pushes him to do so much for the good of others, is that he has lost his faith. Death has come to seem to him merely an end, nothing more, with nothing beyond, and that sense of things haunts everything he does.

This kind of sapped faith has led many a mind into progressivism of one sort or another, but Don Manuel will have none of it. We learn the story of Don Manuel through the narration of Ángela Carballino, who is writing her memories of him long afterward because the bishop has opened the cause of Don Manuel's beatification. Her brother, Lázaro, had left the village and gone off to the New World, and has become cosmopolitan and freethinking and anti-clerical, full of the latest progressive ideas. But when he returns to the village, he finds himself baffled by Don Manuel, and is converted by him from progressivism to -- not quite Catholicism but -- the nurturing of the Catholic faith of the village. Progressivism is just the same story; it is dreams of future glory in a reality in which everything simply dies. And its proselytizing excuse -- that truth matters above all -- is in reality just a way to disparage people like the villagers for having a different version of the same story. All of Lázaro's talk of truth as the most important thing can be seen, when set beside Don Manuel, to be just a pretty way to express contempt for other people. Lázaro the progressive was as much in the spell of an illusion as the people he dismissed as parochial and rustic, taken in by illusions; he too had been following dreams in order to live without looking at the harsh truth. Hay que vivir -- one must live; and in the meantime there is little to be done if you lack the support of illusions except to distract yourself by helping people to live -- which means, among other things, helping them to maintain their own illusions in a way that makes people happy. That is the source of the intensity of Don Manuel's drive to do good for others, the anguish of trying to help people to live while believing that everything will just die.

This summary makes things sound more simple than they are. We learn, for instance, that Don Manuel comes from a family with a history of depression; that he is tempted by suicide; that he has lost someone important to him. But these come across as incidental; there is a sort of timelessness to Don Manuel, the semper nunc of one who has no time to do good except now.

In Tragic Sense of Life, Unamuno gives his own existentialist characterization of what it is to live as a Spaniard. It is to be Catholic in sensibility even if one is no longer Catholic of head, to have something medieval submerged within, echoes or legends, so to speak, of a feudal town. It is to be driven by life and by reason, and to find that they are not companionate but are instead enemies bound together, needing each other yet tending to oppose each other. And this, the immortality of the soul, is the clinching point: one reasons as a mortal; one lives as though one can never really die. Thus the Spanish sense of life, Unamuno thinks, is a tragic sense; it is a sense that one must do the thing that will certainly fail. One may laugh at Don Quixote; but the only way to live is by a sort of quijotismo. Genuinely to live is to be quixotic.

Given this one might think that San Manuel Bueno, mártir is just a straightforward narrative depiction of the ideas, but this, too, is not so simple. Storytelling is already a sort of illusion-weaving; it conveys a suggestion of Something Beyond. To believe in immortality, in heaven, even in the future worker's paradise, is to read history as a story, with the events as words that allude to so much that they never actually say. And this tale in particular is not told by Don Manuel, but by Ángela, who is a believer even if she sometimes has doubts. Her own view -- perhaps a bit of illusion-weaving of its own -- is that perhaps Don Manuel and Lázaro really did believe in the immortality of the soul, and that God by His grace made it so that they did not believe that they believed it, for precisely the result that came about: a lifetime of service here and now, doing good here and now, sacrificing for others here and now, reflecting the faith they did not seem to share and a starry heaven they did not think existed. An illusory view, perhaps -- but life is a network of dreams. If reason and life are really in conflict, it is all well and good to exclaim pompously that one is on the side of reason -- but hay que vivir.

It was interesting to (re-)read the work, as well as the more philosophical elaboration of the same themes, given that I have no natural or temperamental inclination to Unamuno's ideas. Unamuno represents a Spain that is Catholic in its blood but has gone Protestant in the head, or perhaps better, caught a Protestant head-cold. It is a modernity that is haunted by feudal and medieval echoes, a city of concrete and steel that cannot shake the sense that it should be painted in the colors of chivalry with Baroque and Gothic at every corner. The depictions are all somewhat analogous to those that we find in Umberto Eco's The Island of the Day Before, in which a lush and beautiful view of the world is just out of reach, visible across an impassible channel in the realm of yesterday. My roots are Northern European, not Mediterranean; for Unamuno and Eco it seems that the anxious picture of an unmeaning world is a modern thing, but for anyone of Scandinavian background, it is worn and mythological and pagan-ancient, for sooner or later, the wolves will devour the gods. With such roots, the path to reason only lies, as Chesterton saw, as the Anglo-Saxon poets insisted, in something that can be victory over death.

This is all a very florid way of saying that while I can admire the picture painted, it seems very clear to me that it is a picture, whatever its claims to realism; to treat realism as reality is the most basic form of delusion. Look around you, and you will see no immortality, no resurrection, no future glory, no better world in the future, just walls and trees and walking bodies of flesh and blood in a fleeting space of time, and to treat everything as that is the most straightforward kind of realism. But nobody understands the world just by looking around them, and the world we recognize must be cannot really fit into that kind of realism. Unamuno gets a contradiction between reason and life because he sets them up to contradict each other.

But, of course, this is not just a claim about my own sympathies or lack thereof, which would be a thoroughly uninteresting topic. The point is that what Unamuno is doing is not giving a rigorous analysis of the world; he is telling a story about it. And a story, as I said above, consists of words suggesting much more than they ever say on the page, and suggesting something that has a kind of timelessness. Sense is immortality writ small; meaning is like Sunday in Ordinary Time, a sort of Easter out of season. To tell a story is already to suggest what Unamuno says cannot be. Unamuno tells this particular tale about Don Manuel well, because so much of it was the story he was already used to telling himself and others about life; but someone who is not already immersed in that kind of story can only look at it and see not as capturing the world itslef, but as itself a sort of fantasy fiction, lovely in its way, but more realistic than real. For such a person, that difference in sympathies makes the tale of Don Manuel seem in some ways, I think, a different story than Unamuno intended to tell. But he himself, I think, would accept such an ambiguity without much protest.

Favorite Passage:

--Es un hombre maravilloso -- me decía Lázaro--. Ya sabes que dicen que en el fondo de este lago hay una villa sumergida y que en la noche de San Juan, a las doce, se oyen las companadas de su iglesia.

--Sí --le contestaba yo--, una villa feudal y medieaval...

--Y creo --añadía él-- que en el fondo del alma de nuestro Don Manuel hay también sumergida, ahogada, una villa y que alguna vez se oyen sus campanadas.

--Sí --le dije--, esa villa sumergida en el alma de Don Manuel, ¿y por qué no también en la tuay?, es el cementerio de las almas de nuestros abuelos, los de esta nuestra Valverde de Lucerna... ¡feudal y medieval!

My translation:

"He is a marvelous man," Lázaro told me. "You know that they say that at the bottom of this lake there is a submerged town, and that on St. John's night, at midnight, one hears the bells of its church."

"Yes," I answered, "a feudal and medieval town...."

"And I believe," he added, "that at the bottom of the soul of our Don Manuel there is also submerged, drowned, a tow, and that sometimes one hears its bells."

"Yes," I said, "that town submerged in the soul of Don Manuel -- and why not also in yours? -- is the cemetery of the souls of our ancestors, those of our Valverde de Lucerna...feudal and medieval!"

Recommendation: Highly Recommended.

Evening Notes Index, 2017a

Here are the Evening Note posts for the first half of 2017.

June 29: Learning Urdu

June 9: Invented Traditions

May 22: Moral Testimony and Problems with the Asymmetry Thesis

May 19: Saint Teresa of Avila and Rene Descartes

May 12: Incipit and Desinit

April 24: Progymnasmata and Language-Learning

April 17: Developing a Treasury of Ideas

April 10: John Quincy Adams on Tropes

April 3: Analogical Predication and Veneration of Icons

March 27: David Braine on the Nature of Knowledge

March 16: Of Just Protest

March 7: Of the Russian Byzantine Catholic Church

February 22: Interpreting Fitch's Knowability Paradox

February 14: Of Public Sculpture

February 5: Moral Evil and Natural Evil

January 25: The Conversion of Saint Paul and Rabban Gamaliel

January 11: Of Conflicts of Interest

Friday, June 30, 2017

Poem a Day 30

And so ends the month of June.

A Poet's Final Bow

I cannot write at all
and therefore I must write.
When civilization falls
each man must be a knight;
when nothing can be said,
a man must seek to speak;
when all the world is dead,
the last must not be weak.
When drought brings famine's need,
and plants begin to die,
the farmer nurtures seed.
He does not sit down to cry.
When arid is the soul,
the soul must start to pray.
When hopes are swallowed whole,
the traveler must make his way --
those problems must be solved
that leagues and miles span.
And the one who cannot write
must write so that he can.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Evening Note for Thursday, June 29

Thought for the Evening: Learning Urdu

This summer I have been taking a Continuing Education course on basic Urdu. (I had hoped to find a way to start learning Malayalam in a classroom setting, but that turned out not to be possible, so I looked around to see what languages were possible.) Urdu is a language found chiefly in Pakistan and Northern India. It has a close, but rather tangled and weird, relationship with Hindi. If you ask people whether Urdu and Hindi are the same language or different languages, the answer you get will literally depend on who you ask. Some people will tell you that they are exactly the same language, and they will point to the fact that the basic grammar is the same, the basic vocabulary is the same, that the primary reason we distinguish them is not linguistic but political (due to the oppositions between India and Pakistan), and that it's not uncommon for them both to be treated as one language, Hindustani. Others will tell you that they are obviously different languages, pointing to the fact that the literary and technical vocabularies (where the two don't simply share an English-based technical vocabulary) are very different, that Urdu writing system is Persian and the Hindi writing system is Devanagari, that Hindi is far more Sanskritized and Urdu is far more Persianized and (to some extent) Arabicized, and that they are often treated as two languages. And the reasons for both answers are completely right. Part of the difficulty is just that India is a language melting-pot. Urdu speakers in a context in which there are many Hindi speakers speak an Urdu that emphasizes the Sanskrit influence and shared Hindi vocabulary; Urdu speakers outside that context often speak an Urdu with a far greater Persian and Arabic content. The situation is complicated further by shared English influence (which, of course, is very extensive) and by the fact that a very large percentage of Urdu speakers speak it as a second language.

From that little summary you can already begin to see some of the interesting facets of trying to learn Urdu, both the facilities and the complexities. Urdu is in one sense very easy to learn -- it is even more flexible for communication than English, which is saying a lot. Its weird demographics guarantees that pronunciation is not particularly important. Yes, there's better and worse pronunciation -- but Urdu speakers, just by the nature of the thing, aren't fussy about pronunciation in ordinary contexts. Likewise, you can make yourself intelligible in at least a pidgin-Urdu way very easily. Just some very basic vocabulary and basic grammar, and you can go far.

At the same time, Urdu combines its easiness for basic communication with extraordinary barriers to sophisticated communication. There are often many ways to say the same thing, some of which are better than others. Part of this is just melting-pot vocabulary -- on some things there is a Persian-based word, a Sanskrit-based word, and an English-based word, and maybe even an Arabic-based word. Khudah hafiz, God go with you, is purer Urdu; Allah hafiz is increasingly common, especially for Pakistanis; using the English is not unheard of. Part of it is the nature of the language influences that are involved. I've mentioned before, with Vietnamese, that etiquette is actually a major part of how languages work, a part of their very structure, and this is quite obvious with Urdu. Pretty much every verb in Urdu literally has five different forms that mean exactly the same thing. If you want to say, "Listen!", for instance, you can say it in any of these ways:

Soun!
Sunoo!
Suneyn!
Sunieye!
Sunlijey!


The sense of these is all entirely the same. But they're not equally appropriate to every situation, since each one is a more formal and polite way of saying "Listen!" than the one before. If you say, Soun!, this claims such a degree of informality that it's only used in prayer, in very special literary situations, and when you are being very, very rude. The second is more common; it is appropriate to talking to very close friends and family in a very close setting or when addressing young children. The third is the kind of thing you would use with your family while at home. The fourth, the most polite in ordinary use, you might use with strangers, or at times with family when among strangers. Sunlijey! is hyperformal -- it is more than polite, so that it tends to be an emphatic form, as in 'please be very sure to listen'.

(This intricacy of etiquette forms is a reason for an interesting feature of Urdu -- it has no native vocabulary for Please, Thank You, You're Welcome and the like. There are phrases for them, and they do sometimes get used -- to say "You're welcome", for instance, you can say, Koiin baat nahiin, which literally translates as "Don't mention it," unsurprisingly, because it is a direct translation from English. The natural way Urdu handles politeness is by the form of the words you are using -- so, for instance, if you wanted to convey your thanks, you would temporarily increase your politeness. Specific vocabulary for it only arose in interaction with English, usually, although sometimes Persian or Arabic, especially with religiously-toned vocabulary.)

The single most difficult thing about learning Urdu, though, is the detachment of the spoken language from the writing. Despite English's weird spelling conventions, spoken English and written English are very closely interlinked, and the link is even greater for most Romance languages. If you come from these languages, it is easy to overlook that this is actually an artificial development; it is not the normal state of things. For most of history, writing and speaking a language operate as effectively as if they were two languages that were closely intertranslatable. Written versions of languages usually are more formal, have older vocabulary, and retain old grammatical forms longer. One of the (many) difficulties in learning Finnish, for instance, is that the colloquial form diverges in some rather extensive ways from what you usually find in reading and writing. There have been languages where there is no standardized spelling at all -- indeed, to some extent English itself was this way up to the spread of the printing press, which is why its spelling conventions are all mixed up. And, most seriously still, speaking is a common act, while writing is a fairly specialized skill. This can have significant effects.

Written Urdu, using Persian script, is a calligraphic language; the standard way of writing is Nasta'liq calligraphy. It is literally not designed for common people to use, and it takes a lot of work even for fluent Urdu speakers to get to the point of finding it consistently quick and easy. It does not use discrete letters the way the Roman alphabet does; when you write, you scrunch the letters together in a sort of calligraphic shorthand. This means that each of the nearly forty letters changes what it looks like depending on where it is in the word. It is so difficult to typeset that it is only within living memory that newspapers in Urdu started not being handwritten. It is not uncommon for people to use Devanagari or the Roman alphabet instead -- but there is no standard romanization. Everybody spells things in whatever way they think works best. If you wanted to establish complete writing chaos, you could not design a better way.

The chief difficulty for a beginner is that it is very, very difficult to look up words. A full Urdu dictionary will be in Nasta'liq, which is difficult to read unless you are very used to it. Spelling in Nasta'liq is fairly regular, but because the script is borrowed from a different language, there are letters that are silent, and if you are not native it can be difficult always to catch the difference between soft dal and hard dal, soft rey and hard rey, and so forth; thus if you are trying to look up a word you've heard, it's usually not straightforward. Online resources allow you to use the romanized alphabet -- but, again, there is no standard romanization, so you may have to spend quite some time guessing the spelling.

It's very interesting, though, and a good example of how a new language allows you to stretch your mind a bit.

Various Links of Intesrest

* Kenny Pearce on Newton's Rationalism

* An illuminated manuscript depicting Aristotle, Averroes, and Ramon Llull going to war against the Tower of Falsehood.

* Fr. James Bradley, What Is Canon Law?

* Kathleen Vail reconstructs the Shield of Achilles from its description in the Iliad.

* Matthew Schmitz, Why Cardinal Sarah Terrifies His Critics

* Elizabeth Dunn, The Myth of 'Easy' Cooking

Currently Reading

Miguel de Unamuno, San Manuel Bueno, Martír
Miguel de Unamuno, Tragic Sense of Life
John of St. Thomas, The Gifts of the Holy Spirit
Kenneth L. Pearce, Language and the Structure of Berkeley's World
Nicholas Phillipson, David Hume: The Philosopher as Historian
J. R. R. Tolkien (Christopher Tolkien, ed.), Beren and Lúthien
Stephen R. Lawhead, Dream Thief

Poem a Day 29

Snow Picture

Her hair is flecked with flakes of snow
and this I know,
that time, a bird now tame,
has given up its game,
and by her hand is held.

A flicker on a snowflake bright,
a gleam of glowing light,
sparks and sparkles pure and white,
just behind her ear
like a frosted giant's tear
in suspension held.

A gist of ghostly whisper-breath,
as deeply still as death,
has played across a lash of eye,
light as lie,
but clean and honest as the sky,
and by the picture frame is held.

A whirling whorl of wind is still,
bereft of will
and frozen in a phase,
and plays around her face,
in instant held.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Irenaeus

Today is the memorial for St. Irenaeus, who was born at some point in the first half, and probably the first quarter, of the second century. He had been a student of St. Polycarp, and from there went to Lugdunum (present day Lyon), to assist the new bishop. In 177 or so, while still a priest, he was sent to Rome on a mission and met Pope Eleutherius. This was during the time of Marcus Aurelius, in which the laws were pressed against the Christians a bit more strictly, although not with complete consistency anywhere. While Irenaeus was in Rome, a crackdown on Christians occurred in Lyon. The bishop of Lyon, St. Pothinus was imprisoned; when Irenaeus returned, and St. Pothinus had died in prison, Irenaeus became bishop. After that, almost no information about him has survived, except his works, the most important of which is Adversus Haereses, a polemic against Gnosticism. From Adversus Haeresus, Book V, Chapter 2

By His own blood he redeemed us, as also His apostle declares, "In whom we have redemption through His blood, even the remission of sins." And as we are His members, we are also nourished by means of the creation (and He Himself grants the creation to us, for He causes His sun to rise, and sends rain when He wills). He has acknowledged the cup (which is a part of the creation) as His own blood, from which He bedews our blood; and the bread (also a part of the creation) He has established as His own body, from which He gives increase to our bodies.

When, therefore, the mingled cup and the manufactured bread receives the Word of God, and the Eucharist of the blood and the body of Christ is made, from which things the substance of our flesh is increased and supported, how can they affirm that the flesh is incapable of receiving the gift of God, which is life eternal, which [flesh] is nourished from the body and blood of the Lord, and is a member of Him?— even as the blessed Paul declares in his Epistle to the Ephesians, that "we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones."

Poem a Day 28

Silk and Blood

A wild soldier in a wilder war
waved his sword in shining sun;
"Sword!" he cried, "What do you want?"
In a voice of steel the sword exclaimed:
  "No drink is better than drink of blood."

A young maiden fair, with hair like silk
  (No string is stronger than string of silk)
out to the mill at sunrise went,
dreaming of times in future tense,
dreaming of dresses of finest sheen
  (No string is stronger than string of silk),
washing the wool with arms laid bare.

Up from the war a soldier comes,
catching a sight of the pretty maid.
  (No drink is better than drink of blood.)
Trinkets he gave her; she went away crying.
  No drink is better than drink of blood!
  No string is stronger than string of silk!
  Who will carry the word through the woods?
Crying she went home, seeking her mother;
"Child!" cried her mother, "it may be made right!
Take out your dress; your father will journey;
take out a silk dress, to be a bride!"
  (No string is stronger than string of silk.)

But out to the barn went the maid, teary-eyed
  (No string is stronger than string of silk).
A long silken cord she wound and wound
  (No string is stronger than string of silk).
Up she strung it, swinging upon it:
  No string is stronger than string of silk.

The fires are dampened; the mourners are crying.
  Who will carry the word through the woods?
Perhaps the bear will lumber along,
speaking the word fashioned by tears.
  Who will carry the word through the woods?
Perhaps the wolf will lope, long and lean,
speaking the word formed from a curse.
  Who will carry the word through the woods?
Perhaps the fox will glide through the bushes,
speaking the word of death and despair.
  Who will carry the word through the woods?
The hare will! The hare, the rabbiting coney,
will jump through the woods spreading the word.

The soldier caught the jumping hare
  (No drink is better than drink of blood).
The soldier shook the hare, speaking with laughter,
"Nice, tasty dinner to put in the stewpot!"
  (No drink is better than drink of blood).
Up spoke the long-ear, trembling in whisker:
"Not for the stewpot today am I destined!
  Who will carry the word through the woods?
I carry the word through the dark woods:
The maiden you knew wound silken cord
  (No string is stronger than string of silk);
she swung herself upon it in sorrow;
No more will she laugh in the warm summer sun."

The wild soldier seized his sword,
looking at it as it glinted in firelight.
A day he honed it to razor's edge
  (No drink is better than drink of blood),
a second day he honed it to part at a touch
  (No drink is better than drink of blood),
a third day he honed it to thinnest edge
  (No drink is better than drink of blood),
and went to the field and took out his sword
  (No drink is better than drink of blood).
His hand did not hold it; the earth held the sword
  (No drink is better than drink of blood),
hilt in the ground and point to the sky
  (No drink is better than drink of blood).
The sword's aim was true; the point went through:
  No drink is better than drink of blood.

The blood drips on earth, the ravens are cawing.
  Who will carry the word through the woods?
Perhaps the honey-thief will lumber along,
speaking the word fashioned by edge.
  Who will carry the word through the woods?
Perhaps the fox will streak through the trees,
speaking the word fashioned by sword.
  Who will carry the word through the woods?
The wolf will! His jaws are red with blood,
fresh from a soldier, and a hare for chaser:
  No drink is better than drink of blood.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Islands of Miranda, Part III

This is the third part of a short story draft. Part I. Part II.

Having little to do, Diego called up an old friend; they met at a soda for a quick meal and, as the friend even at this stage in life was something of a party animal, they hit the bars until three in the morning, reminiscing about old times and trying, as such people do, to stay in that ideal gray area between staying clear-headed and sliding toward unconsciousness. He saw the friend off in a taxi, then walked home through the deserted streets beneath the streetlamps and a moonless sky.

It was still dark when he stumbled through his doorway. He made his way through the house to his bedroom, planning on just falling on his bed to sleep. He did not quite make it that far. Just as he entered the room, something cool and flexible and plastic suddenly seized upon his face, held in place by someone behind him, and he could not breathe. A flurry burst through his brain and down to his heart, whose every beat he could not feel. It was almost impossible to think.

But Diego had been saved by an accident of timing; just the moment before, he had reached up to scratch his face, and as the plastic descended, it caught his thumb. It was only by a tiny bit, and was not on its own enough to make a difference. But as he struggled, the thumb stretched the plastic and it broke. The feel of the snap broke through, one moment, to Diego's panicking brain, and he moved his other hand, which had been scratching futilely at the edge of the plastic on the other side of his face, up to his mouth. He pressed inward as hard as he could and tore a small hole in the plastic around his mouth. With his other hand he opened the whole as wide as he could, and at the same time pivoted and ran his assailant as hard as he could into the corner of his dresser.

From that moment it became a scrambling struggle between Diego and his assailant, who had not yet registered that Diego could breathe, even if only with difficulty, and thus was no prepared for an ongoing fight. The assailant pushed forward to the bed; Diego pushed as hard as he could back toward the dresser, and back they went, both slipping. The assailant's head caught the edge of the dresser with a thud Diego himself felt, and the arms slackened. Diego tore the plastic off his face and stood a moment, huffing and puffing, before turning on the light and calling the police.

It was a long early morning from that point, answering questions with his brain still half-scrambled. The assailant was unconscious, rather than dead, and was carted off by ambulance and police. Diego was sitting on the doorstep trying to minimize the throbbing in his head when a woman came up to him and handed him a handkerchief.

"Pura vida," he said gratefully, wiping his face.

"I am Carlota Pacelli, Mirandan security," she said. She looked him over frankly. "You look like you need to sleep, Señor Páez. The embassy has reserved a hotel room for you."

He dozed in the car on the way to the hotel, which was on the other side of San Jose, and, after Pacelli had checked the room, curled up into the bed and fell asleep.

It was not, however, a peaceful sleep, and he woke after two hours with a sudden start, his heart racing as if from a nightmare. It was impossible to get back to sleep, so he went down to the lobby and found Pacelli there reading a magazine.

"You didn't sleep long," she said.

"I really find the need for a breakfast, I think," he replied.

She took him to a nearby soda, and while waiting for his meal, he raised a steaming cup of strong, black coffee to her. "May the Islands return."

She smiled slightly but did not reciprocate. "The Islands will never return," she said gravely.

It was such an unexpected response that he almost burned his lips on his coffee. "What do you mean?"

"Just what I said. When the Islands were invaded, the Venezuelans removed all of the population that failed to evacuate and replaced it with a new one. The Commemorative Obelisk was smashed to pieces. Los Ángeles..."

"...has been converted to an office building," said Diego, remembering his conversation with Tovar. The association nagged at him, for some reason.

"Yes," Pacelli replied. "San Francisco on Gran Roque is still there, but the Left-Populists nationalized it and converted it to an 'ecumenical chapel', whatever that is. The electric ferry system is gone. The posadas and people and restaurants of the Gran Roque of our grandparents' day are all vanished, never to return. Even the old lighthouse is barely maintained, and that only because it predated us. There are no Islands to return, not really. The Left-Populists didn't just set out to invade; they set out to erase us. They could not reach to Costa Rica, or any of the other places that provided refuge after the Invasion, but on the Islands, it is all gone, as if we never were. And so I say that the Islands will never return. The past is gone."

Diego's gallo pinto arrived and he tucked into it hungrily. Pacelli let him eat in peace.

After a few minutes, he said, "After this, I will need to go back to the embassy; I am expecting message there. If what's I've been told it is, I will need to fly out in the next week or so. Do you think the police would have a problem with this."

"To be honest," she replied, "this is my first time dealing with a murder attempt. We should ask them explicitly, but if it's important, I am certain that the embassy can smooth out any problems."

When they reached the embassy, Pacelli went to make some calls, and Diego found his message waiting. The envelope was an ornate heavy parchment tied with string, and it included, with elaborate calligraphy and an old-fashioned red wax seal, a Certificate of Appointment to the Board of the Miranda Organization, conditional on the approval of Augustine Cardinal Binaisa, President of the Pontifical Commission for the Insular State of Miranda.

"So I will finally get to see something of Italy," Diego said to himself.

to be continued

Seal of All the Fathers

Today is the feast of St. Cyril of Alexandria, Doctor of the Church. From his work on the Unity of Christ:

That the Nature of God the Word has been filled with true glory, Royalty and Lordship, how can one doubt? and that He is firmly to be conceived of as being in heights the most God-befitting? but since He appeared as man to whom all things are a gift and imparted: therefore He, Full and giving to all from out His own fulness, in human wise receives, making our poverty His own: and in Christ was an unwonted and strange marvel, in servant's form Lordship, in human mean estate God-befitting glory, that which is under the yoke (as to the measure of manhood) crowned with the dignities of Royalty, and in Supremest Excellences that which is low. For the Only-Begotten hath been made man, not in order that He might remain in the measure of the emptying, but in order that taking along therewith what is its, He might thus too be known to be God by Nature and might ennoble because of Himself the nature of man, rendering it participate of holy and Divine dignities.

Poem a Day 27

Mockingbird

The mockingbird warbles with trills and with bells;
my ears are enchanted by touch of its grace.
All disturbance of soul its canticle quells.

Varied repetition a narrative tells,
with artful rendition and mimicry plays;
the mockingbird warbles with trills and with bells.

A cat's meow, a babe's cry, the tinker compels
to do a new task and to work in new ways;
the mockingbird warbles with trills and with bells.

Endless music from spirit endlessly wells,
conturbation, ring-echo, squirl interlaced;
the mockingbird warbles with rings and with bells.
My ears are enchanted by touch of its grace.

Monday, June 26, 2017

The Two Factors of Education

Even the conventional everyday morality demands that man should hand down to his children not only the goods he has acquired, but also the capacity to work for the further maintenance of their lives. The supreme and unconditional morality also requires that the present generation should leave a twofold legacy to the next,--in the first place all the positive acquisitions of the past, all the savings of history; and, secondly, the capacity and the readiness to use this capital for the common good, for a nearer approach to the supreme goal.

This is the essential purpose of true education, which must be at once both traditional and progressive. The division and opposition between these two factors of the true life--between the ground and that which is built upon it, between the root and that which grows out of it--is absurd and detrimental to both sides.

[Vladimir Soloviev, The Justification of the Good, von Peters, ed. Catholic Resources (Chattanooga, TN: 2015), p. 445.]

Whewell also makes this point, calling the two aspects the 'permanent' and 'progressive'; although arguably Whewell takes them to be more detachable from each other than Soloviev does.

Poem a Day 26

Heat

The sidewalks burn with light.
The sun is rising high; its heat
burns our innocent feet.
All things shine that we see, and eyes
ache from the burning skies.
May we see, ere we die, the night.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Xunzi, Part I

What might be called Standard Confucianism consists essentially in the Four Books, which originate out of a commentary tradition on the Five Classics. The traditional acceptation of the Four Books gives a sense of how this works. Lun yu give us Confucius himself, as well as some of his immediate disciples commenting on his essential ideas; Da xue is likewise, according to tradition, a summary by Confucius of his ideas and a commentary by Zeng Zi, one of his most important students; Zhong yong is attributed to Confucius's grandson Zisi; and then we jump to the major commentator, Mencius, in the Mengzi. This gives Master Meng a significant pride of place as a semi-definitive comment on what the way of the scholar is; when the Four Books idea really develops, the commentators essentially focus on the tradition from Confucius to Mencius. But there are alternative forms of Confucianism, and the most important of these is Xunzi, who was essentially from the generation immediately after this Standard Confucian cut-off.

Xunzi was born Xun Kuang -- or perhaps Sun Kuang -- but beyond that we know very little about him. He first really shows up in the states of Qi and Qin in his fifties, and is thought to have lived out much of his later life in what would be the modern Shandong province. The most notable figures who are thought to have been his students, Li Si and Han Fei, were important anti-Confucians, so in a sense his tradition dead-ends with him. This is not to say that he did not have influence, since the absolute dominance of Mencian thought in Confucian circles only really arises in the Song dynasty, and the very fact that we have a surviving substantive work from him is a point worth considering. While Xunzi would often be criticized, it is only with the Song commentators that Xunzi becomes treated as a kind of Confucian heresiarch because of his heavy (but entirely Confucian) criticism of Mencius.

As with all the major Confucian texts, it is a matter of considerable controversy how much of the Xunzi text is actually due to Xunzi himself. It consists of thirty-two chapters that stand alone very easily. The text as we have it was compiled in the first century BC by Liu Xiang, who himself says that he started with over three hundred texts and edited it down to thirty-two -- some of those three hundred were duplicates, but we don't know in what proportion, nor do we know for sure what Liu Xiang did in building the thirty-two chapter work we have. For instance, each chapter has a title, but we don't know if all of these are Liu Xiang's or if some of them go back to the beginning. Because of its origin, there is no fixed chapter order, and new editors in new generations felt free to shuffle them around to an order that made more sense to them. Likewise, while some of the chapters would make nice stand-alone essays, others seem to be more miscellaneous chapters in which Liu Xiang put pieces he couldn't fit elsewhere, and the 'smoothness' of the chapters varies considerably. Without Liu Xiang's original sources, it is impossible to say how much of the text actually goes back to Xunzi himself; some of it, or even most of it, could be due to lesser known or unknown disciples. On the other side, though, there is no reason to think that the book is in any way unfaithful to Xunzi's thought, either.

The translation I will be using is that of Eric L. Hutton, who follows the most common chapter order, that of Yang Liang. David Elstein has a nice overview article on Xunzi at the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, and Dan Robins another such overview article at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

I. Quanxue (An Exhortation to Learning)

"Learning must not stop" (p. 1), that is to say, a constant state of refinement and improvement is necessary to life of the junzi, or noble. Learning as Xunzi conceives it is essential social: by building on the work of others you are able to go farther than you would be able to go on your own. This will tie in with one of Master Xun's constant themes: greatness and authority are not things you simply have, any more than you have a good view simply by your birth, but must be worked at. To have a good view, you must find a good place to stand. It matters where you live and with whom you associate. As he will say later, "In learning, nothing is more expedient than to draw near to the right person" (p. 6).

Learning likewise is a matter of slow accumulation. It is by small steps that you reach a destination worth reaching, and it is important for the process of accumulation not to give up simply because things get tedious or difficult. One starts with the classics, moves on to the study of ritual, and never stops until death. It must be upheld at all times: "To pursue it is to be human, to give it up is to be a beast" (p. 5).

The noble do not merely receive learning; they assimilate it. It sticks in their heart, diffuses through their body, is expressed in their action, so that everything they do is an expression of what they have learned and thus a model for others. The petty, Master Xun says in a striking image and joke, are such that learning enters their heart and leaves their mouth: "From mouth to ears is only four inches--how could it be enough to improve a whole body much larger than that?" (p. 5). Learning should be for improvement of self, not for impressing others.

The result is a very high standard. People who are inconsistent in their principles and actions are not to be trusted as teachers; only those who pursue important things wholeheartedly have a true grasp on learning, and thus are able to pass along in a proper way things they have learned. The noble person, then, will devote himself without qualification to learning, knowing that the flawed does not deserve praise.

II. Youshen (Cultivating Oneself)

Education is fundamentally a matter of self-education, and this means that all things are occasions for education. If you see goodness in another, look to see how you can cultivate it; if you see badness in another, look to see if you are guilty of or in danger of it. One should avoid flatterers, who may mislead you, and you should regard your critics, when right, as more friends than your supporters who support you no matter what. This is one of the distinctions between the noble and the petty.

Teaching has a necessary relation to what is good; it is contrasted with leading others to what is bad, which is flattery. (The argument here is quite similar to that of Plato in the Gorgias.) Education is thus by its nature practical: there are specific remedies to handle problems so that, for example, if you are sluggish or greedy, you need to cultivate "lofty intentions" (p. 11). This practicality means that your self-cultivation should proceed regardless of whether your situation is difficult or not (the farmer does not become more lazy in times of drought), and you need to have a good template or model to follow, which you then must proceed to use in a way appropriate to it.

Rituals are ways of correcting yourself; "to contradict ritual is to be without a proper model" (p. 14). We rely on teachers to help us to correct our implementation of them.

III. Bugou (Nothing Improper)

The noble only esteem what is in accordance with ritual and rightness. It is precisely this that guarantees that the noble man is consistently good and admirable, regardless of what temperamental or acquired traits he may have. Whether the noble are learned or unlearned, cautious or ambitious, renowned or in obscurity, pleased or displeased, wealthy or poor, the noble are in accordance with ritual and rightness. The petty are the opposite; they are discordant and sowers of discord whether they are learned or unlearned, cautious or ambitious, renowned or in obscurity, pleased or displeased, wealthy or poor:

A saying goes, "In both cases the gentleman advances. In both cases the petty man falters." This expresses my meaning. (p. 18)

The noble cultivate themselves by cheng, being true to their proper nature. Because the noble man is steadfast and consistent he becomes an element of the environment, so to speak; and just as heaven and earth and the seasons have their effects without having to use words, so the noble person teaches and improves the world simply by living nobly.

In making decisions, one must be balanced and thorough, looking at everything from each side in order to determine what is desirable or undesirable. Failure to do this may lead to an appearance of propriety or nobility that is purely an illusion.

Poem a Day 25

True Love

I have not yet met you on my way;
I guess I cannot marry you today.
I thought to meet you walking by the bay;
I missed you by a minute on the road;
I thought I might just catch you by the quay --
no such luck! Perhaps you did not make the boat,
or were held up by sudden, sad delay,
or perhaps had come and gone, and I too slow --
but as I do not know you, anyway,
I guess I cannot marry you today.