Saturday, July 14, 2012

Stendhal, The Red and the Black


Opening Passage:

The small town of Verrières may be regarded as one of the most attractive in the Franche-Comté. Its white houses with their high pitched roofs of red tiles are spread over the slope of a hill, the slightest contours of which are indicated by clumps of sturdy chestnuts. The Doubs runs some hundreds of feet below its fortifications, built in times past by the Spaniards, and now in ruins.

Summary: The novel takes place toward the end of the Bourbon Restoration, during which France still lives in the shadow of the French Revolution and the rise and fall of Napoleon. The aristocracy lives in fear of another Revolution, referring to it repeatedly; the specter of Napoleon lingers throughout the land, a source of fear for some and for dreams of glory for others. It is a society that cannot help but be rife with hypocrisy. Through this society we follow Julien Sorel, son of a carpenter, handsome, intelligent, with a prodigious memory. He is one of those inspired with dreams of glory by the figure of Napoleon, and would, were he able, go into the military as an officer; but it is not a military age, and it is very difficult to become an officer. So instead he goes the route that seems available to him: the Church. Of course, he is a complete unbeliever; he believes in the God of Voltaire, not that of the Bible. But obviously this does not get promotions in the Church, so he sets himself to fooling everyone, to the point that he memorizes the Bible in Latin, word for word. He becomes tutor to the children of M. de Renal, where he meets Madame de Rênal. Over time the two fall in love and have an affair; this ends up forcing a situation in which Julien has to leave and go to seminary. At seminary his hypocrisy is seen through almost immediately by his duller fellow students, who see clearly enough that even when he has the right answers it has too much of the book in it, and his fine future suddenly does not seem so assured. But it is in seminary that he finds the major protector in his life, M. Pirard, who manages, after leaving the seminary himself, to get Julien a position with the Marquis de la Mole, an important and wealthy government official. There he meets Mathilde de la Mole, the Marquis's daughter; like Julien she is caught up in dreams of glory, but hers are inspired not by Napoleon but by the heroic deeds of her ancestors. They have an affair, the result of which is a pregnancy, which touches off the crisis on which the novel ends.

A great deal happens in the novel beyond what this bare summary can suggest. The work is usually classified as a major example of realism, but although it's on only a first reading, I have to say that anyone who thinks this novel realistic has been duped. Not only are none of the characters entirely reliable, it becomes quite clear as we proceed through the story that the narrator himself is not reliable -- he keeps trying to pushing the reader into a particular point of view, and shows repeatedly that he is playing to, and sometimes with, what he assumes to be the reader's prejudices. The narrator, in short, is as much a hypocrite as the characters, as is, in fact, necessary given that he is bound up in the very same society they are. The psychological close-ups of the characters are brilliant, but they are also contradictory; for instance, the narrator in turns treats Julien as audacious and non-audacious, intelligent and non-intelligent, as it suits him. In context these assessments are always plausible; but another thing will happen and the narrator will give us a completely contradictory assessment. Even the epigraphs are often made-up or misleading. The narrative also makes rare but definite use of farce and melodrama -- these are some of the best parts of the book, in fact -- and the primary mechanisms of plot are not realistic but consist of chance and the unpredictable irrationality of various characters. (The hero, or anti-hero, Julien, is an extraordinarily passive character: his few plans go astray, and almost every success he achieves is because of luck or favor.) The detail, especially the psychological detail, is certainly rich, but it is a façade. The novel is not just about hypocritical characters; it is a hypocritical novel about hypocritical characters, told from a hypocritical point of view. This in itself would make the book a tour de force. Julien Sorel is not a very sympathetic character -- he is, of course, a hypocrite through and through, quite deliberately (one of his heroes is Tartuffe), to such an extent that were it not for some humanizing episodes he might come across as psychopathic -- but given his society and the sheer disparity between his dreams of glorious activity and the purely passive and ambiguous successes he does achieve, it is very difficult to have such a sour and smirking amusement at his life as the narrator does. Everything is ambiguous in this novel; one could miss this, because the narrator is very good at intruding and telling you the way it is -- but, again, the narrator repeatedly shows himself untrustworthy.

Quite a complexity; I doubt this book can be done justice on a single reading. At the same time, I confess, I don't have a huge urge to read it again.

Favorite Passage: The character I liked best in the book was Korasoff, the Russian prince. He's also the only character who is presented in a humorous light by the narrator who is genuinely funny.

In London he at last made acquaintance with the extremes of fatuity. He made friends with some young Russian gentlemen who initiated him.

'You are predestined, my dear Sorel,' they told him, 'you are endowed by nature with that cold expression a thousand leagues from the sensation of the moment, which we try so hard to assume.'

'You have not understood our age,' Prince Korasoff said to him; 'always do the opposite to what people expect of you. That, upon my honour, is the only religion of the day. Do not be either foolish or affected, for then people will expect foolishness and affectations, and you will not be obeying the rule.'

Recommendation: Probably for some people and not for others.

On Akasie on Episcopalian Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori

The Wall Street Journal has a really bad opinion article on the recent Episcopalian General Convention. We get shots like this:

Formally changing the structure of General Convention will most likely formalize the reality that many Episcopalians already know: a church in the grip of executive committees under the direct supervision of the church's secretive and authoritarian presiding bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori. They now set the agenda and decide well in advance what kind of legislation comes before the two houses.

Now, say what one will about the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, but "secret and authoritatian" seems a little doubtful, to say the least; if anything, she often seems frank enough when she does speak that it's probably a good thing she comes across generally as a rather quiet and unassuming person. At least, even her severest critics don't usually bring up "secretive and authoritarian" charges. Heretical, modernistic, even impatient, I have seen, but secretive and authoritarian are not really criticisms that even her critics usually bring up. And, as geoconger notes, it's not actually true that she or the executive committees set the agenda for the General Convention. The major fault, apparently, for which she gets these and other sinister labels throughout the article, is simply for insisting on Episcopalian canonical process when congregations decide to break communion. Yes, it's a controversial thing to do; it may be that there are better ways to do it than sue to retain ownership of Episcopalian property; but it hardly makes for a general character of secretive authoritarianism.

Schori herself is actually an interesting character. She originally intended to go into medicine, but also had an interest in marine science, and was turned off by the atmosphere of her pre-med program, which she felt was morally toxic. So she went into oceanography, and got her Ph.D. in that, then went on to focus on research. After graduate school she began to take a bit more interest in religion than she had during her studies, and became fascinated at the same time with the history of science. Much later she became an Episcopalian priest, after discovering to her surprise that there were kinds of teaching that she actually liked certain kinds of teaching. Far from being any sort of ruthless or dominating person, she seems mostly to be just an eminent representative of a kind of spirituality that's quite common, especially among Episcopalians -- exactly as you would expect. The Episcopalians are going through a rough patch right now, with lots of disagreements, and Katherine Jefferts Schori has made a number of controversial decisions in the midst of those disagreements; but this does not make someone "secretive or authoritarian," or any of the other things this article implies about her.

Two Poem Drafts


The eyes of my lady,
sweet pools of Narcissus,
reflect back ideas
I see in my mind,

entrap and enchant me
with love of myself
as seen through the shimmering
eyes of my lady.

My Vices

My dragons are so picturesque
I know not how to kill them;
I watch the warm and sunny skies
as dragons swarm to fill them.

They grow from little pup-like cubs
to mountains soaring high
with flames so fierce and searing hot
that near them all things die.

But, oh! when endless numbers fly
and chaos wreak on all
I still can't kill the splendid things
though all the world should fall.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Holy Roman Saxon

Today is the feast day of St. Henry II, Holy Roman Emperor. He was the last ruling member of the Saxon dynasty of the Holy Roman Empire that had been created by Otto the Great. He did not succeed his father on the throne; rather he succeeded, if I recall correctly, his second cousin, Otto III, who had died childless. He was a savvy political operative: he had been on his way to assist Otto III who was under siege when Otto had died; Henry quickly took over all the royal insignia in order to reduce the possibility of a nasty succession dispute then spent some years steadily consolidating his power against those of his cousins who thought they deserved it more. Standard operating procedure, if you ever happen to be the newly ascendant Holy Roman Emperor: work very, very quickly to get across to the almost-Emperors that almost is not enough. This sometimes meant some rather bloody episodes, especially in the hornet's nest that was eleventh-century Italy. Like his predecessors, and especially Otto the Great, he knew how to maneuver with regard to the Church: he vigorously supported Catholic bishops, but always in ways that were politically useful. You can look at almost everything he did and see at least two reasons for it. For instance, he was an enthusiastic supporter of the spreading standard of clerical celibacy. Why? Because it reduces the chances that church property and power will be passed down as private property and dynastic power, which both purifies the Church and reduces the political danger of bishops amassing enough power over generations to challenge the Emperor, but at the same time makes possible an influential class of non-nobles who can be allies against the nobles. That is, of course, how you will have to think yourself if you ever become Holy Roman Emperor: everything has to be weighed not merely in terms of whether it is good, but whether it conduces to the peace, order, stability, and prosperity of the Empire.

But it does make him not what you would expect to see on the calendar of saints. Cunning and occasionally brutal, he used the Church itself as an instrument of power in good Ottonian fashion. He had an undeniably genuine respect for the God, the Church, and the Faith -- but bishops themselves he saw as political agents, and he trusted them as far as he trusted any other political agents, and no farther -- which is to say, he made no concessions to them he did not have to make. But people aren't on the calendar because they had good policies or even because they are obviously admirable (although on many points Henry did and was); they are on the calendar because they have imitable virtues of extraordinary value that are seen in their service to Christ. One can question Ottonian policy, but Henry really cared. He wasn't a cynical manipulator, he wasn't a self-aggrandizer; he devoted himself to the utmost to God and to the good of his people as best he knew how. Even when he was very sick he continue to travel all over his dominions -- not a small feat, especially in those days -- to fix problems and maintain peace. It was not for nothing that he was remembered as Good King Henry, and it is not for nothing that he is the only Holy Roman Emperor to be canonized.

One is the Loneliest Number and is Natural but Odd

There is an interesting post at the "Maverick Philosopher" on van Inwagen's argument for the univocity of 'exists'. I think Vallicella goes way too easy on the first premise of the argument:

Number-words are univocal in sense: they mean the same regardless of the sorts of object they are used to count.

This seems to me to need more precision to avoid a common misunderstanding of what it is to be univocal or equivocal; words are univocal or equivocal in use, not in the abstract. Taken strictly as stated, this premise would require us to say that number-words are never reasonably used in a metaphorical or in an ironic sense. But this is certainly not true. I can count ironically, e.g., if I were making fun of somebody for miscounting something. Those will not be univocal with ordinary counting uses, which are really being presupposed here. More seriously, however: while it involves a count in some form, and the use of the word can clearly be linked to ordinary counting uses, it is simply not at all obvious that 'one' in "One is the loneliest number" is univocal with 'one' in "One is the first odd natural number". Actually, it's pretty obvious that it isn't. We know, for instance, that the two do not have the same scope: you can have one item in a couple, but not in the sense in which it is the loneliest number.

The rest of the post is quite good, though.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Rough Timeline for Early Nineteenth-Century France

Reading The Red and the Black I'm finding that I've needed to refresh my memory a bit about the historical context Stendhal is assuming, which was a pretty crazy period in French history. So here are just some notes, with special focus on military and ecclesiastical matters.

1713 The Jesuits manage a victory over the Jansenists when the latter are condemned by Pope Clement XI in Unigenitus.

1720 In response to the Marseilles Plague, the last significant outbreak of bubonic plague, citizens begin to devote themselves to the Sacred Heart; people elsewhere follow suit, thus accelerating the spread of the devotion outside of religious communities.

1730 Unigenitus begins to be legally enforced in France.

1756-1763 Seven Years' War.

1765 The Feast of Sacred Heart begins to be allowed as a liturgical celebration throughout France.

1773 Society of Jesus is suppressed by Pope Clement XIV.

May 1774 Louis XVI ascends to the throne of a financially weak (in great part due to the Seven Years' War) and very unpopular government.

1775 Giovanni Angelo Braschi becomes Pope Pius VI; he was a compromise candidate who was chosen because he was likely to continue enforcing the suppression of the Jesuits.

1776 Louis XVI supports the American colonies in the American Revolutionary War; this will turn out to be very expensive for France.

May 1789 To raise money the Louis XVI is forced to call the Estates-General. The Third Estate declares itself the National Assembly. The First Estate, which consists of the Catholic clergy, votes to support them. The French Revolution begins.

The National Assembly still faces the same financial problems that had previously existed. As a solution, it nationalizes all property of the Catholic Church in November, and begins to sell off Church land.

1790 The National Assembly abolishes monastic and religious orders in France. In July the Civil Constitution of the Clergy is passed; all Catholic priests become employees of the state in the eyes of the law. An election system for priests, inconsistent with Church custom and canon, is established. The National Assembly requires an oath of allegiance from clergy. About a quarter of the clergy take it; the rest flee, are exiled, or are imprisoned. (In the novel, the Bishop of Besancon is said to have been a survivor of the Emigration; that is, he either fled or was exiled around this time.)

1791 Honoré Gabriel Riqueti, better known as Mirabeau, dies; a famed politician, he had tried to mediate between the royals and revolutionaries at the outbreak of the Revolution, and spent the end of his life trying to turn the Revolution in the direction of a British-style constitutional monarchy.

France annexes the Papal territory of Comtat Venaissin (which includes Avignon).

1792 The First Coalition against France, led by Austria, is formed, and the War of the First Coalition begins.

21 January 1793 King Louis XVI is executed.

3 March 1793 The French government begins closing Catholic Churches, with additional anti-Catholic measures. This, plus a conscription drive, leads to the War in the Vendée, a counter-revolution of peasants, shopkeepers, and craftsmen banded together as the Catholic and Royal Armies.

5 September 1793 The Terror under Robespierre begins. This will include further attempts to de-Catholicize French society.

10 November 1793 Feast of Reason marks the height of the dominance of the atheistic Cult of Reason. The Catholic Church in France is in shreds by this point.

21 October 1793 Clergy refusal to swear the oath of allegiance is made a capital crime, as is harboring any such clergy.

December 1793 Republican army decisively defeats the Catholic and Royal Armies first at Le Mans and then at Savenay. Scattered attempts to revive the Vendée revolt will continue over the next several years, and the region will continue to be a royalist bastion for the next several decades.

12 March 1794 Struggle between the atheists and deists among the Revolutionary leaders tips sharply in deist favor as the leaders of the Cult of Reason are sent to the guillotine.

5 April 1794 Georges Danton is guillotined.

7 May 1794 Cult of the Supreme Being official announced; the Feast of the Supreme Being is held 8 June 1794.

27 July 1794 Thermidorean Reaction: France begins to shut down the Terror when the Assembly votes to execute Robespierre.

21 February 1795 Limited Catholic worship is made legal again, but some things (ringing church bells, religious processions, public displays of the Cross) are still illegal.

8 June 1795 Louis-Charles, child of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, dies at the age of 10. Even though he never ascended the throne in any official way, and had lived the period since his father's death in prison, the Bourbons will later treat him as King Louis XVII.

March 1796 Napoleon takes command of the Army of Italy begins his First Italian Campaign in the struggled with Austria; the Papal States are subdued. Napoleon rejects the views of the Directory that the Pope should be dethroned because he is worried that the Kingdom of Naples would take advantage of the resulting power vacuum. Instead, he marches into Austria to force peace negotiations; the result is the Treaty of Leoben. First Coalition collapses; only Britain continues to fight.

15 February 1798 Berthier, a general under Napoleon, enters Rome unopposed and declares that Rome is now the Roman Republic. When Pope Pius VI refuses to renounce all temporal authority, he is taken prisoner back to France.

1798 Napoleon begins his Egyptian Campaign; it's an indirect way to attack the British, since Napoleon concludes that France is not yet strong enough to invade across the channel.

Austria, Russia, and their allies regroup and the War of the Second Coalition against France begins.

A British fleet under Horatio Nelson defeats a French fleet at the Battle of the Nile.

24 August 1799 Napoleon returns to France, despite having received no orders to do so; as it happens, the Directory had sent such orders but they had not arrived.

29 August 1799 Pope Pius VI dies in prison in Valence, France.

9 November 1799 The era of the Directory ends in coup; Napoleon, Sieyès, and Ducos become provisional Consuls, and the French Consulate begins. Napoleon outmaneuvers Sieyès by drafting the Constitution of the Year VIII and getting himself elected First Consul.

14 March 1800 Barnaba Niccolò Maria Luigi Chiaramonti becomes Pope Pius VII.

June 1800 The Papal States are restored and Pius VII returns to Rome.

1801-1802 The War of the Second Coalition winds down as first Austria and then Britain sign treaties with France. Britain, however, protests some unilateral moves by Napoleon and refuses to evacuate Malta as the treaty requires.

15 July 1801 Pius VII and Napoleon sign the Concordat of 1801; it restores some privileges of the Catholic Church, but does not recognize it again as the official religion, the clergy must still swear an oath of allegiance, and the Church must give up all claim to any Church property confiscated after 1790.

8 April 1802 Napoleon officially bans the Cult of Reason and the Cult of the Supreme Being.

1803 His government more or less bankrupt and war with Britain on the horizon, Napoleon raises money with the Sale of Louisiana.

May 1803 Britain declares war against France.

1804 Napoleon's police uncover an assassination plot against him, apparently by pro-Bourbon forces.

Napoleon declares himself Emperor of France, beginning the First French Empire.

1805 Austria and Russia join Britain as the War of the Third Coalition against France begins; Napoleon is forced to call off an intended invasion of Britain.

December 1805 Napoleon defeats Austria at Austerlitz, forcing Austria to withdraw from the Third Coalition. The Treaty of Pressburg effectively ends the Holy Roman Empire.

1806 Prussia joins the Coalition against France; thus begins the War of the Fourth Coalition against France, although there had been no cessation in hostilities.

Napoleon defeats Prussia at the Battle of Jena-Auerstadt in a matter of weeks.

Napoleon defeats Russia at the Battle of Friedland.

July 1807 The Treaties of Tilsit end the War of the Fourth Coalition; but Britain and Sweden continue to fight.

1807 Napoleon invades Portugal with the help of Spain to enforce Portuguese compliance with the Continental System boycott against Britain. The Peninsular War begins.

Napoleon invades Spain.

British and Portuguese forces under Wellington begin to cooperate with Spanish guerilla forces; French hold on the region begins to deteriorate.

1808-1809 France invades and annexes the Papal States; Pius VII is taken prisoner and exiled to Savona.

1809 Austria attempts to break treaty, thus beginning the War of the Fifth Coalition against France, on Napoleon's eastern flank. Austria is defeated. Britain continues to fight.

1812 Napoleon invades Russia. The French defeat the Russians outside of Moscow at the Battle of Borodino, but it is a Pyrrhic victory. Napoleon withdraws. Anti-French forces take heart and the War of the Sixth Coalition against France begins.

1813 Napoleon defeats the Coalition at the Battle of Dresden, but the Coalition is able to regroup and defeat the French at the Battle of Leipzig. There is a steady string of British victories in Spain. Napoleon is forced to withdraw to France.

Treaty of Fontainebleu ends the First French Empire and exiles Napoleon to Elba. Pius VII's exile ends.

1814 Sixth Coalition invades France. Massively outnumbered, Napoleon manages to outmaneuver opponents in a string of victories in the Six Days' Campaign, but the Coalition continues to advance. Paris is captured by the Coalition in March.

Napoleon intends to march on Paris, but faces mutiny. Napoleon abdicates; Congress of Vienna opens. Under the influence of Talleyrand, and due to the political state of Europe, the European nations are convinced -- to very different degrees -- that the French monarchy should be restored.

Louis XVIII signs the Charter of 1814 to comply with the preconditions given the Congress of Vienna for his restoration. It gives equality before the law and protects freedom of religion but makes the Catholic Church the state religion. The Bourbon restoration begins in earnest; the Bourbons maintain as a matter of principle that they had always been the rightful government of France, and that Louis-Charles was in fact King Louis XVII, immediately after whose death Louis XVIII became king.

Papal States are restored.

7 August 1814 Suppression of the Jesuits is lifted by Pius VII.

1815 Napoleon escapes from Elba and marches on Paris, but is defeated by forces under Wellington at Waterloo. Napoleon is exiled to Saint Helena.

1818 Jean-Baptiste-Marie Vianney becomes parish priest of the little parish of Ars (hence the name he is usually known by, the Curé D'Ars); he finds that his parishioners, while firmly Catholics, also know only bits and pieces about the Catholic faith, since they had never been properly catechized. He begins the decades-long work of repair.

1819 Joseph de Maistre publishes On the Pope, which argues that the Pope should be considered the supreme temporal authority in Europe.

5 May 1821 Death of Napoleon.

28 September 1823 Annibale Francesco Clemente Melchiore Girolamo Nicola Sermattei della Genga becomes Pope Leo XII against the active opposition of France.

1824 Marguerite Marie Alacoque, seventeenth century devotee of the Sacred Heart, is declared Venerable by Leo XII.

16 September 1824 Louis XVIII dies; Charles X ascends the throne.

1825 Anti-Sacrilege Act is passed, which makes it a capital crime to steal consecrated Eucharistic hosts.

10 February 1829 Pope Leo XII dies.

13 March 1829 Francesco Saverio Castiglioni becomes Pope Pius VIII

October 1829 Stendhal begins developing the idea for a novel.

May 1830 Stendhal gives his novel the title The Red and the Black. Nobody actually knows why; the usual explanation is that it indicates the two major choices, the army or the Church, but French uniforms were blue. Some have thought that the colors are intended to indicate a roulette wheel; and one can very well see from this timeline that an ecclesiastical career was certainly a gamble throughout this period.

1830 July Revolution (Second French Revolution/Trois Glorieuses): The end of the Bourbon Restoration, the beginning of the July Monarchy.

30 November 1830 Bartolomeo Alberto Cappellari becomes Pope Gregory XVI.

November 1831 The Red and the Black is published.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Horns of Elfland Faintly Blowing

The Splendor Falls
by Lord Alfred Tennyson

The splendor falls on castle walls
And snowy summits old in story;
The long light shakes across the lakes,
And the wild cataract leaps in glory.
Blow, bugle, blow, set the wild echoes flying,
Blow, bugle; answer, echoes, dying, dying, dying.

O, hark, O, hear! how thin and clear,
And thinner, clearer, farther going!
O, sweet and far from cliff and scar
The horns of Elfland faintly blowing!
Blow, let us hear the purple glens replying,
Blow, bugles; answer, echoes, dying, dying, dying.

O love, they die in yon rich sky,
They faint on hill or field or river;
Our echoes roll from soul to soul,
And grow forever and forever.
Blow, bugle, blow, set the wild echoes flying,
And answer, echoes, answer, dying, dying, dying.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Gilpin on the Picturesque I: Picturesque Beauty

Having recently read a bit of Austen, it occurred to me that I should do some posts on William Gilpin on the picturesque, since Austen interacts rather extensively with Gilpin's account of, and approach to, the picturesque in her novels, and especially with its relation to moral psychology (yet one more reason why she should be regarded as not just a novelist but as a moral philosopher writing in novel form). It is also perhaps a sign of the general sad state of modern aesthetics that you can find philosophers who have never heard of Gilpin, despite the fact that his notion of the picturesque takes its place with beauty and sublimity as the dominant concepts of early modern aesthetics, and despite the fact that it is still surprisingly influential today, long after anyone remembers the source.

William Gilpin was born in 1724 and died in 1804. He was an Anglican curate, then a headmaster, then a vicar; at one point he was tutor to Caroline Anne Bowles, who would eventually become a notable poet. He wrote quite a number of works, not merely on the picturesque but also on various religious and moral works: published sermons, dialogues on various practical and moral topics, biographies of reformers, etc. The works that cover the subject of picturesque beauty are themselves quite diverse and scattered, and this is one difficulty in getting a good grasp on Gilpin's account. In the relatively early Essay on Prints we first get the definition of the picturesque, or of picturesque beauty: "a term expressive of that peculiar kind of beauty, which is agreeable in a picture" (EPr xii). Right here we see the interestingly indirect character of the picturesque: it is beauty, but it is not the beauty of the thing itself except insofar as this would contribute to a picture -- of course, the pictures here are drawings and, by extension, paintings -- that would be agreeable to aesthetic taste. Gilpin's account is therefore an offshoot of the major eighteenth century approach to aesthetics, the theory of taste, in which beauty and the like are understood in terms of the appreciation of those to whom it is presented. But relativity to picture is a distinct twist, particularly since much of Gilpin's work is concerned with the beauty of the natural world. This very indirect approach to natural beauty might strike one as odd, but it has one very extraordinary advantage for aesthetics: it gives a philosophical underpinning to the use of artistic vocabulary in discussing the natural world. Living as we do long after Gilpin, it is perhaps difficult for us to grasp the sheer force with which this would have struck eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century minds. One of the continual impediments to the development of aeshetics has been the poverty of a vocabulary for expressing clear judgments and making fine distinctions in experience. The theory of the picturesque allowed people to take over the terminology of painters, drawers, and, to a lesser extent, sculptors, in order to make precisely such judgments and distinctions, on a scale that had never been known before, and with less confusion than might have been possible at an earlier stage of aesthetic thought. To see the world with a painter's eye allows you to weigh and characterize its beauty with a painter's vocabulary.

Gilpin sometimes treats 'beauty' as a general term and sometimes as a specific term. When he is treating as a general term, the picturesque is one kind of beauty. He often, however, treats it as a specific term, in which case we get the distinction found in the "Essay on Picturesque Beauty" from the Three Essays:

Disputes about beauty might perhaps be involved in less confusion, if a distinction were established, which certainly exists, between such objects as are beautiful, and such as are picturesque -- between those, which please the eye in their natural state; and those, which please from some quality, capable of being illustrated in painting. (TE 3)

This obviously raises the question, which Gilpin goes on to ask: What is the distinguishing characteristic of the picturesque? Gilpin answers the question by contrast. Burke had noted that smoothness plays an important role in whether we account something beautiful -- indeed, he goes so far as to say that it is the "most considerable" part. Gilpin is skeptical of its being quite that important, but he agrees that it does play an important role. Smooth marble is beautiful. A glass-like sea is beautiful. But one thing we learn quite quickly is that, if you want to draw or paint smoothing, the smoothness of something is not a benefit. Smooth waters are boring to paint; smooth marble gives you nothing to draw. Here we then have a clue as to the distinction between the picturesque and other kinds of beauty: the picturesque concerns the kind of beauty that is rough or rugged. Not a smooth sea, but one with lots of waves; not smooth marble, but craggy rocks; not near rows of plants, but scattered flowers and trees; not elegant columns, but gnarled trees. If you take a really beautiful garden by someone who likes things all in elegant and neat rows, it will nonetheless not make for as enjoyable picture as a garden in which everything is a bit riotous. There's a connection still, and Gilpin does not always emphasize it; but he does recognize that if you take a nice bit of lawn and throw off its symmetry with trees and rocks, you get the picturesque not by eliminating the beauty of the lawn but by making it less smooth, taking away only such elegance as is required to leave a ruggedness and wildness that is interesting to the eye. Or, to use another example that Gilpin uses, suppose you sit for a picture. You're very neat and tidy, nicely combed. But the painter may well look at you and then muss your hair up a bit so that you don't look so boring in the frame. And if you go to portrait museum, the best portraits are not those of smooth faces, however beautiful, but those that are, as we say, full of character: wrinkled faces, shaggy beards, deepset eyes. The best human faces and forms are those that manage to balance both: somehow smooth, elegant, beautiful while at the same time being rough, rugged, picturesque. Likewise, when someone like Virgil, who perhaps provides the best literary examples of what Gilpin has in mind, describes something, he often throws something out of order or symmetry in order to make it more striking. Venus does not merely have beautiful hair; it streams in the wind. Hair that just hangs there may be beautiful; but even the hair of the Goddess of Love is only striking when it is doing something 'rough' or 'rugged'.

The picturesque, then, is roughness or ruggedness that is agreeable when illustrated in drawing or painting. The world, to the extent that it is picturesque, is not quiescent, but alive, forceful, for the eye. The painter can paint the non-picturesque, of course, but, to use the example Gilpin uses, if you have a painter paint your beautiful Arabian steed, you should rest satisfied with that and not complain that the painter would much rather paint your strikingly rugged cart-horse because he could "give the graces of his art more forcibly" to it (TE 16). Gilpin links this preference to the very activity of drawing or painting: the rugged line is a line that is itself made boldly, freely; it is striking in part because the artist strikes out with it. The best pencil sketches consist of lines that are what Gilpin calls free and bold. A line is free if it has the appearance of being unconstrained (e.g., no hesitation or timidity); it is bold "when the part is given for a whole, which it cannot fail of suggesting" (TE 17n). The suggestive line unhesitatingly drawn: this is half of the art of the pencil sketch in itself. Thus one reason for the attraction of roughness is that it is suitable to the execution of the work.

Execution is not the only contributing factor, however. Another reason roughness is important to the picture is composition. In the Essay on Prints, Gilpin had defined composition in the strict sense as "the art of grouping figures, and combining the parts of a picture" (EPr xi). The smoother things are, however, the less composition you have. A painting of a blank wall doesn't involve any combination at all. "Picturesque composition," says Gilpin, "consists in uniting in one whole a variety of parts; and these parts can only be obtained from rough objects" (TE 19). Indeed, almost everything related to composition requires roughness of some kind: variety, contrast, light and shade, richness of light, textures of color, are all kinds of roughness in what one sees. Painting is an art of visible roughness. Even when painting a smooth object, the smoothness of the real object simply becomes a subtle roughness in the painting; the surface itself may be smooth, but the painter would then capture variations in light and dark, or subtle shifts in color.

Gilpin has an interesting discussion of why roughness ends up being so important, and rejects a long list of possible answers. For instance, it's not because the picturesque is solely about nature (since the painter's 'nature' is just whatever can be put to canvas), nor is it because roughness makes possible simplicity-with-variety (since this is just the common feature of all kinds of beauty), nor is it because it is easier to imitate. And he concludes that we simply don't know. It's a first principle.

Thus Gilpin's basic account. If this were all, however, it would probably not have made as much of a splash as it did. We are missing something, and what we are missing is another important element in Gilpin's theory of the picturesque: picturesque travel. More on that in the next post.

Midgley on Aggression

People suppose [aggression] to be more dangerous than fear, but this may well be a mistake. Nor is aggression--as Freud thought--essentially destructive. For instance, disputes are aggressive, but they are not attempts to destroy one's opponent. And children's play, which has a strong element of controlled aggression is certainly not destructive. There are not (as used to be supposed) any non-aggressive human societies. Opposition is an essential element in human life: aggression is part of the emotional equipement for making it work. Societies which keep it within reasonable bounds (unlike our own) are doing something much harder and more interesting than merely never feeling it in the first place.

Mary Midgley, Wickedness. Routledge (New York: 1984) p. 92. The children's play point, while concisely giving an extraordimarily important argument, should surely be qualified slightly, e.g., "is generally not destructive" or "is not necessarily destructive".

Monday, July 09, 2012

Music on My Mind

Danny Liston, "Amazing Grace". Inspired by the previous post; this is the single best version of "Amazing Grace" sung to the tune of "House of the Rising Sun" that I have heard.

Tunes and Texts

Yesterday in church we sang a hymn to the tune Kingsfold; the hymn was "I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say". I'd never actually heard the hymn before, although it's not an obscure one, but I recognized the tune immediately, because it's one of the tunes that can be used for the nineteenth-century Irish ballad, "Star of the County Down". And thus it reminded me of the close link between true hymnody and folksong, both of which traditionally have made sharp distinctions between text and tune, and thence have derived both a subtle variety and considerable ingenuity.

"I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say" is a good example of this, actually, because while I heard it to Kingsfold, it's actually more often sung to the tune Vox Dilecti, and they are very, very different tunes. You can get a sample of Vox Dilecti here, and a sample of Kingsfold here. What both tunes share is an hymn meter, which is also known as Common Meter; any text that can be sung to any tune can be sung to any other tune, and there are lots and lots of them. And it's a bit more expansive than that. You can, by lengthening or shortening syllables (on which hymn meter is based), sing texts to tunes with different meters.

For instance, "O Little Town of Bethelehem" is usually sung to the tune St. Louis, which is a tune; the text and the tune are so linked that almost nothing else is sung to that tune. And it's a good pairing; St. Louis has a relatively quiet and reflective feel, especially if you sing it slowly. However, you occasionally find people singing "O Little Town of Bethlehem" to the slightly more upbeat Forest Green. You can find a sample of St. Louis here, and a sample of Forest Green here. But you could also sing it to Kingsfold, which is also It would sound strange because we're not used to that text sounding jaunty, and Kingsfold sounds somewhat jaunty, as we find when we listen to someone singing "Star of the County Down". Likewise, you could sing it to Vox Dilecti. But you could also take a tune, like King's Lynn, and sing it to that. I think that text and tune would go very well together. You could sing it to Llangloffan, which is another tune, and it would sound different again.

Perhaps the best-known hymn tune in the world is a slightly modified New Britain, also an, because the text usually sung to it is "Amazing Grace". But you could sing "Amazing Grace" to any tune. Some of them would sound very strange, just as singing "O Little Town of Bethlehem" to New Britain would sound strange because the accents and pauses would be strange for the text. But you could do it. And, of course, this goes much farther than the standard folk tunes; one of the things Baptist youth groups often do is sing "Amazing Grace" to the tune of "Theme from Gilligan's Island" or the tune of "House of the Rising Sun". For that matter, you could reverse it. Or sing "O Little Town of Bethelehem" to the tune from Gilligan's Island; talk about jaunty.

Of course, what this means is that there are no unsingable hymns. If you don't like the tune, you can pick a new tune. And if you don't know the tune for a lyric, you can still pick up the text and sing it right off if you know the hymn meter (which is just the syllable count of the lines) and a corresponding tune. It's a system designed for a people who sang for fun, for heartfelt expression, for whiling away the time, for a people whose approach to music was not passive but active. Everyone was a singer; some did it better than others, but the tunes were common property. Genuine folk music, music of the folk. People tend not to disconnect text and tune in this way today, and I think it's for two reasons. First, we vastly overrate originality, and so every text has to have its special tune and vice versa, unless we are doing parodies, which (1) is silly and (2) makes singing the special province of those who control the tunes and the texts. Second, we are not a singing people but a listening people, timidly letting others sing because their voices are better. This also (1) is silly and (2) makes singing the special province of those who sing a wide range of tunes well. In fact everyone can sing some tunes well, and nobody needs to be original to have great songs. And singing is what human beings do to express their hearts, and as such it is something suitable to everyone.

Fivefold Distinction

But here is found a fivefold distinction among human beings.

(1) A bodily one according to sex, and this he excludes, saying 'there is no male and female', which do not differ according to mind but according to bodily sex.

(2) The second through nations, and this he excludes, 'there is neither Greek nor Jew'. For although these were believers, and those unbelievers, yet both have rational minds (Rom. 3:29, 'Is He God of the Jews only? And not of the Gentiles?')

(3) The third, according to a specific rite, for some had profession of law and others did not have that rite, yet (Rom. 10:12) 'the same Lord is Lord of all', and so forth.

(4) The other concerns language, 'barbarian, Scythian'. Scythia is towards the north, barbarism is foreignness, thus barbarians are as it were foreign. And one is simply a barbarian who is alien to human nature as such, and this is in so far as it is rational. And, therefore, barbarians are those who are not ruled by reason and law, and therefore are naturally servile. But in Christ they do not differ, because even if they do not have the civil law, yet they have the law of Christ.

(5) The other concerns condition, because some are servants, and some free; but in Christ they are all alike. (Job 3:19, 'The small and great are there', and so forth.)

Therefore these differences are not in Christ, but Christ is all and in all.

Thomas Aquinas, Super Epistolam B. Pauli ad Colossenses lectura, cap. 3, lect. 2.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Book a Week, July 8

The book for this next week is Stendhal's The Red and the Black. Marie-Henri Beyle was born in Grenoble, France, 1783, and died in Paris in 1842. He wrote under several pseudonyms, but 'Stendhal' is the one that has lasted, due to two works, The Red and the Black and The Charterhouse of Parma. I have a very nice Heritage Press edition (New York era) of The Red and the Black, which is, fittingly, all in red and black. It uses the C. K. Scott-Moncrieff translation of the French, so that's what we'll be going with.

Le Rouge et le Noir is a fictional account of events from 1826-1831, and is supposed be a satiricial novel, full of irony, dealing with the the contradictions, and thus hypocrisies (since hypocrisy is the way human beings deal with internalized contradictions), of France during the Bourbon restoration. The book was highly regarded by no less than Balzac, but it was a failure in its own day; Stendhal himself said that in writing and publishing it, he was gambling on finding an audience in 1935. Today it often makes lists of the greatest novels of all time, so Stendhal seems to have picked a good lottery ticket. I tend not to be a huge fan of very psychological novels, and satire is always hit and miss, so we'll see how well it goes; but this is a book I've been meaning to get around to for a very long time.

Nonclassical Aristotle

A logic is called classical if it has certain basic properties that are shared by standard propositional logic and the predicate calculus. Exactly which properties get focused on depends on the context, and usually what the contrast case is. Classical logics are distinguished from modal logics in being purely truth-functional, for instance, while they are distinguished from other logics by being monotonic, from some logics by accepting the law of the excluded middle, and from some logics by being bivalent (only dealing with true and false), and so forth. The irony with the name is that Aristotelian logic, which is the 'classical' logic in our usual sense of the term 'classical' is nonclassical in the modern sense, as a number of people have started pointing out. Indeed, Aristotelian logic is a sprawling thing with a complete indifference to the notion that there should be only one system of logic, and a perfect willingness to assume that the properties of classical logic, in the modern sense, fail for some domains. This is true even in Aristotle himself, since Aristotle's full logic -- that is, if you don't stick only to the strict and bare syllogistic formalism, which Aristotle himself does not -- has modal components, dialogical components, paraconsistent components, and relevance components. (That it has the first two is undeniable; the other two are somewhat more controversial, but it's not hard to find passages in Aristotle that can at least be interpreted in these ways.) This is unsurprising; building the One True Logic is utterly off of Aristotle's radar, and it is clear from a number of places that Aristotle thinks that what logical principles you should use depends entirely on what you are doing. Aristotle simply doesn't try to fit everything into formal syllogisms. Indeed, in the context of the full Organon, the formal theory of syllogisms found in the Prior Analytics is almost a secondary matter, important as it is in its own right; Aristotle's interest in the formal theory of syllogisms appears entirely subordinate to his attempt to establish a general theory of demonstration, which itself is quite clearly not reducible to the formal theory of syllogistic validity.

This carefree pluralism is in fact endemic to the Aristotelian tradition at least up to the late Middle Ages, although different thinkers go in different directions on different topics. And again, the reason seems pragmatic: people are not interested in abstract systems simply in themselves -- they are into logic in order to do things with it.

ADDED LATER: AT, pseudonoma adds the following, which I thought worthwhile enough to put here, since (given the current mismatch between my commenting system and Blogger's division-by-country) it would be invisible to most people:

One asterisk I would want to add to your final point, when you write

"And again, the reason seems pragmatic: people are not interested in abstract systems simply in themselves -- they are into logic in order to do things with it."

It seems to me important --if one is to achieve a fundamental clarity concerning this fine point --to stress not only the practical or propadeutic character of Aristotelian logic, but also to its origin in the Metaphysics. Aristotle is not treating of anything like "a priori formal laws" whose intrinsic systematicity is , e.g., a necessary consequence of their source in the unity of transcendental apperception. One *may* not need the Metaphysics to be convinced of the truth of Aristotle's formal logic, but he can in no wise discover this logic himself without making metaphysical assumptions (or overtly engaging in metaphysics, god forbid!). The categories are predicables second and ways of saying being first, and the principle of non-contradiction is, as Book Gamma reminds us, a metaphysical principle before it is a logical one.

Various Links for Varied Thinking

* Some idiots have vandalized the Lia Fail. (ht) This is why the human race can't have nice things.

* Eamon Duffy on the Reformation in England

* Tom at "Disputations" has an excellent post on one of the most annoying features of modern Catholics.

* Medieval writing, which has lots of resources on medieval paleography

* Erik Kwakkel discusses evidence of note-taking in medieval classrooms at "medievalfragments"

* A Pacifist Reading of the Lord of the Rings at "Jesus Radicals"

* Jeffrey Rogers Hummel, The Constitution as Counter-Revolution (PDF)

* Darin Hayton, Instruments and Demonstrations in the Astrological Curriculum, 1500-1530 (PDF). What actually strikes me is that Renaissance courses in astrology would fit quite comfortably into the modern university curriculum; they worked exactly the way modern courses work and could have easily proven their practical value.

* Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks discusses the recent German court comments on circumcision. As you might expect, he is not pleased with them.