Friday, March 12, 2010

Obscurest Night Involv'd the Sky

The Castaway
by William Cowper

Obscurest night involv'd the sky,
Th' Atlantic billows roar'd,
When such a destin'd wretch as I,
Wash'd headlong from on board,
Of friends, of hope, of all bereft,
His floating home for ever left.

No braver chief could Albion boast
Than he with whom he went,
Nor ever ship left Albion's coast,
With warmer wishes sent.
He lov'd them both, but both in vain,
Nor him beheld, nor her again.

Not long beneath the whelming brine,
Expert to swim, he lay;
Nor soon he felt his strength decline,
Or courage die away;
But wag'd with death a lasting strife,
Supported by despair of life.

He shouted: nor his friends had fail'd
To check the vessel's course,
But so the furious blast prevail'd,
That, pitiless perforce,
They left their outcast mate behind,
And scudded still before the wind.

Some succour yet they could afford;
And, such as storms allow,
The cask, the coop, the floated cord,
Delay'd not to bestow.
But he (they knew) nor ship, nor shore,
Whate'er they gave, should visit more.

Nor, cruel as it seem'd, could he
Their haste himself condemn,
Aware that flight, in such a sea,
Alone could rescue them;
Yet bitter felt it still to die
Deserted, and his friends so nigh.

He long survives, who lives an hour
In ocean, self-upheld;
And so long he, with unspent pow'r,
His destiny repell'd;
And ever, as the minutes flew,
Entreated help, or cried—Adieu!

At length, his transient respite past,
His comrades, who before
Had heard his voice in ev'ry blast,
Could catch the sound no more.
For then, by toil subdued, he drank
The stifling wave, and then he sank.

No poet wept him: but the page
Of narrative sincere,
That tells his name, his worth, his age,
Is wet with Anson's tear.
And tears by bards or heroes shed
Alike immortalize the dead.

I therefore purpose not, or dream,
Descanting on his fate,
To give the melancholy theme
A more enduring date:
But misery still delights to trace
Its 'semblance in another's case.

No voice divine the storm allay'd,
No light propitious shone;
When, snatch'd from all effectual aid,
We perish'd, each alone:
But I beneath a rougher sea,
And whelm'd in deeper gulphs than he.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

End Beyond the End

Acrostic, by St. Simeon Metaphrastes
by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

A h, tears upon mine eyelids, sorrow on mine heart,
I bring Thee soul-repentance, Creator as Thou art!
B ounding joyous actions, deep as arrows go;
Pleasures self-revolving, issue into woe!
C reatures of our mortal, headlong rush to sin:
I have seen them; of them -- ah me, -- I have been!
D uly pitying Spirits, from your spirit-frame,
Bring your cloud of weeping, -- worthy of the same!

E lse I would be bolder; if that light of Thine,
Jesus, quell the evil, let it on me shine!
F ail me truth, is living, less than death forlorn,
When the sinner readeth -- "better be unborn"?
G od, I raise toward Thee both eyes of my heart,
With a sharp cry -- "Help me!" -- while mine hopes depart.
H elp me! Death is bitter, all hearts comprehend;
But I fear beyond it -- end beyond the end.

I nwardly behold me, how my soul is black:
Sympathize in gazing, do not spurn me back!
K nowing that Thy pleasure is not to destroy,
That Thou fain wouldst save me -- this is all my joy.
L o, the lion, hunting spirits in their deep,
(Stand beside me!) roareth -- (help me!) nears to leap.
M ayst Thou help me, Master! Thou art pure alone,
Thou alone art sinless, one Christ on a throne.

N ightly deeds I loved them, hated day's instead;
Hence this soul-involving darkness on mine head.
O Word, who constrainest things estranged and curst,
If Thy hand can save me, that work were the first!
P ensive o'er my sinning, counting all its ways,
Terrors shake me, waiting adequate dismays.
Q uenchless glories many, hast Thou -- many a rod --
Thou, too, hast Thy measures. Can I bear Thee, God?

R end away my counting from my soul's decline,
Show me of the portion of those saved of Thine!
S low drops of my weeping to Thy mercy run:
Let its rivers wash me, by that mercy won!
T ell me what is worthy, in our dreary now,
As the future glory? (madness!) what, as THOU?
U nion, oh, vouchsafe me to Thy fold beneath,
Lest the wolf across me gnash his gory teeth!

V iew me, judge me gently! spare me, Master bland
Brightly lift Thine eyelids, kindly stretch Thine hand!
W inged and choral angels! 'twixt my spirit lone,
And all deathly visions, interpose your own!
Y ea, my Soul, remember death and woe inwrought --
After-death affliction, wringing earth's to nought!
Z one me, Lord, with graces! Be foundations built
Underneath me; save me! as Thou know'st and wilt!

[Translator's Note: The omission of our X (in any case too sullen a letter to be employed in the service of an acrostic) has permitted us to write line for line with the Greek! -- E.B.]

I rather like Browning's 'Zone me, Lord, with graces!'.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Feminism and Philosophy

Lydia McGrew has a post (partly) on feminist philosophy that I think puts forward a number of common stereotypes about the field that need to be put to rest. The most serious is this comment about feminist philosophy:

Which brings us to the real sense in which it is bad for women to enter the pink-collar ghetto: It is bad for them because they are going to be encouraged to do less rigorous work than they should be doing in philosophy. It will be bad for their professionalism. Group politics will become the very stuff of their "work" and "research," which is not good for the integrity of the work.

Part of the problem with this is that it misreads what feminist philosophy is; McGrew is making the same mistake Leiter made a while back when he suggested that Hypatia, the major feminist philosophy journal, couldn't be top-tier because it was too narrow. Anyone who has read Hypatia with any sort of semi-regularity knows immediately the obvious falsehood of this: if Hypatia failed to be a top-tier journal (I don't think it does, but if it did) it would have to be because it is too broad; it is extraordinarily difficult to manage a high degree of editorial quality when your submissions and readership are as extraordinarily diverse as Hypatia's. Likewise, McGrew makes the assumption (she more or less explicitly states it in the comments) that feminist philosophy is a narrow field with a relatively monolithic agenda -- "group politics". But extended interaction with feminist philosophers would show this to be false; feminist philosophers agree on very, very little. In fact, what they tend to agree on are not substantive claims but the same sorts of things philosophers elsewhere agree on -- problems worth discussing. This is not to say that there aren't substantive claims that get widespread agreement from feminist philosophers -- most will be pro-choice, for instance -- but this is demographics, not agenda. Even on points that are widely agreed upon, like the acceptability of abortion, one finds that the agreement does not run all that deeply -- the reasons for agreeing to the claim are very diverse, and the views on what follows from it practically even more so. "Group politics" is not something one finds; one finds a general concern for justice for women, but politically feminists are too diverse to have any coherent sort of "group politics". This becomes noticeable if you spend enough time hanging out with the people at the Feminist Philosophers blog.

Thus it is not possible to make sweeping claims about what women will be encouraged to do when they go into feminist philosophy. I have no doubt that there are some areas of feminist philosophy where they will, in fact, be encouraged to do less rigorous work. There are plenty of circumstances outside feminist philosophy where this is true, too; I've talked to more than one woman who has complained about how everyone attempted to push her into applied ethics despite the fact that she had made clear that she wanted to do something like philosophy of science. So it wouldn't be surprising if this were the case in some parts of feminist philosophy. But there are clearly areas where this is not the case; I assure you that if you go into analytic feminism you are not going to be pushed to do less rigorous work. If you do work at the intersection of feminism and cognitive science you are not going to be pushed to do less rigorous work. And if you do work in feminist history of philosophy, for at least some areas of that very large field I can guarantee you that you are not going to be pushed to do less rigorous work.

Incidentally, in the comments the remark is made that non-feminists don't study feminist philosophy. But this seems to require playing with words. If one means by 'feminist' anyone who has a concern for improving the lot of women, then it's probably true. But this is hardly a problem. When you start getting much more specific you find that it is entirely possible to find non-feminists studying feminist philosophy, usually on particular topics. There are entire areas of history of philosophy where feminist philosophers are at the forefront of the work; understanding what they are doing requires study of feminist philosophy.

Lydia does analytic philosophy, which is a notoriously self-regarding field; some of this shows here in comments sprinkled throughout. But it can't just be analytic narcissism syndrome; she shows no recognition of the fact that there are people doing feminist analytic philosophy, for instance.

Monday, March 08, 2010

D.G. Myers on Fiction and Ideas

In response to the Maverick Philosopher's comments on John Gardner's comments on fiction and philosophy, D.G. Myers has two excellent posts on fiction as an expression of the human intellect:

The Literary Fuzzhead
Plot and Thought

As any longtime reader would guess, this is a subject on which I feel strongly, and I incline more toward Myers's view. But I haven't looked in any great detail at the subject here, beyond making a few minor points here and there in fairly limited contexts.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Links and Links

* Extracts from Hilario De Coste's Life of Mersenne. Mersenne, of course, was a Minim, and, in fact, became general of the order; the Minims were founded by Francis of Paola and their distinguishing feature was Lenten life, vita quadragesimalis, which meant that except in cases of illness they practiced the Lenten fast from meat every day, in or out of Lent. Like a number of orders and religious society, they were almost wiped out by the French Revolution; but there are still Minims in Italy. (ht)

* Asad Raza has a nice little article on knowledge and zeal from a Muslim perspective.

* Two notable canonizations are in the works: Bl. Mary MacKillop is now scheduled to become the first Australian saint on Rome's universal calendar. Bl. Andre Bessette of the Congregation of the Holy Cross will also receive the distinction of canonization.

* Robot Socrates discusses piety with Robot Euthyphro. I have an intro class that does not like Socrates at all; I showed it to them and they found it hilarious.

* St. Katharine Drexel against the KKK.

* The Anglican Church in America has voted to join the Catholic Church. It's actually a very small group; about 120 parishes.

* Yet another Legion of Christ scandal.