Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Nature of Plagiarism

There is an excellent discussion of sloppy talk about plagiarism by Roy Peter Clark at This is a topic that I have talked about on this blog almost since the beginning. Our usual ways of talking about plagiarism are fundamentally flawed, and as Clark notes, it seems to have grown worse even over the last few years.

We can see that plagiarism is a funny concept in part from the fact that what counts as plagiarism in one field will not necessarily count as plagiarism in another. A fairly straightforward example is in contract law: contract lawyers borrow language from each other all the time in ways that would certainly count as plagiarism in some other fields. But this, of course, is because nothing hangs on this in particular. In general, lawyer reputations are not made by designing completely original contracts; a society in which they were would certainly be contractually creative, but would also be quite bizarre, since such a society could not possibly have effectiveness of contracts as its central idea in contract law. If everyone's primary interest is simply contracts that do what they are supposed to do, copying contract language that works is obviously the way to go. We could imagine a system of contract law in which lawyers would be fined if they produced contracts using contract language whose source was not cited, but it's hard to see what this would accomplish beyond increasing the cost of hiring contract lawyers. We see this quite widely. Journalistic citation practices would not in general be kosher in academic contexts; there are entire fields in which books and speeches are ghostwritten and this is taken for granted (when was the last time that you heard about a politician plagiarizing his speechwriters by failure to cite them?), but ghostwriting is arguably the single most serious plagiaristic offense of which a student can be guilty; almost everyone allows 'common knowledge' exceptions to plagiarism rules, but what counts as common knowledge varies from field to field; and, perhaps most noteworthy of all (because often forgotten), virtually all academics, who are almost all intensely anti-plagiaristic in one way, regularly do things in the classroom that almost certainly would be regarded as plagiaristic elsewhere and sometimes even in their own fields ('common knowledge' is never so expansive as it is in the classroom).

Following Posner, Clark gives the following characterization of genuine plagiarism:

An act of plagiarism requires 1) the substantial copying without credit of one person’s language by another; 2) that this copying is done fraudulently, that is, to fool the reader into thinking that the work is original; 3) that the plagiarist acts with the clear intention to trick the reader; 4) that the act has potential negative consequences for the reader and the original author.

This conceives plagiarism along the lines of fraud: the plagiarist on this understanding presents themselves fraudulently to the detriment of others. (One might wonder why the distinction between (2) and (3); it's possible that this is an accidental splitting, but the two can be interpreted differently, with (2) identifying form and (3) identifying goal or end.) I think analogizing plagiarism to fraud is as problematic as analogizing it to theft, but the condition (4) is particularly important, I think, because (as I've argued before) something like it is the only thing that allows our practices with regard to plagiarism to make sense at all.

Plagiarism is a problem (one might equally say that copying is only plagiarism) only in fields where it distorts essential metrics in ways that are recognizably detrimental to the field. In practice there are three metrics whose distortions can be so detrimental: money, various kinds of reputation metrics, and grades (although grades can be considered a reputational metric themselves). Fields like academia and journalism put a focus on plagiarism because these fields are heavily reputation-dependent; fields like publishing need anti-plagiarism rules in place to protect income; and schools come down hard on plagiarism because they need to maintain the reputation of their degrees, certifications, and the like. There aren't many other situations in which copying would even be an issue, beyond those involving distortion of the field's ways of distributing profit and reputation.

Rather than thinking of plagiarism as a one-size-fits-all category, then, we need to think in terms of cost and protection of incentive in the field at large, whatever the field may be. This is the real reason for the variations in what counts as plagiarism. The money and reputations of folk singers don't depend on their being the only people who can sing a given song in the way it does in the standard music industry; a folk singer delivers performance rather than song, and thus folk singers generally are better off if they are able to share songs freely. When people listen to folk singers -- or any singers other than those who have a standard playlist, for that matter -- they don't do so in order to hear originality but in order to hear quality. Being the originator of a song can influence a folk singer's reputation, and hence money, positively, but it does so in a way that usually requires a wider diffusion of their song than they themselves can usually manage. (This is, to go on a brief only-partly-relevant tangent, the reason for a divide that is often not acknowledged in major music and print publishing industries, which is that while authors/songwriters who can guarantee wide distribution benefit from very strict copyright protections, authors/songwriters who cannot guarantee such wide distribution often benefit from their works being copied without the complications of permissions. The more people who copy such an originator, the greater the probability that monetary channels will start paying off, and the greater the probability that the work will endure a long time as a source of money and/or reputation. What these smaller authors and songwriters really require is not anti-copying rules but attribution rules -- they need to keep the connection to their name intact. Copyright laws, however, are generally imitation-focused rather than attribution-focused, because large-scale publishing concerns don't have to worry much about attribution, but about whether they have any competitors, whether it be another publishing house or someone with a copy machine or scanner. This is part of the reason why the public is constantly irritated by copyright laws: people take attribution to be far more important, and find it to be far more intuitive, than technical rules about what you can and can't copy with your own time and money.)

In short, what we should be doing in talking about plagiarism is talking about why the activity in question distorts measures that are important for monetary or reputational reasons. Indeed, I'm often attracted to the view that we should stop talking about plagiarism at all, and instead just talk about the problems different activities cause for the field. Another alternative would be the one Clark takes, which is to identify a particular problematic activity as plagiarism in the proper sense, or as the key kind of plagiarism, and sort out every other kind of activity according to its relation to this key one. Regardless, we do need to think critically about what we say when discussing plagiarism.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Dashed Off

three fundamental elements of common good
(1) human rights
(2) development of specific spiritual and temporal goods
(3) active peace

path dependency in philosophical reasoning

Aquinas's definition of natural desire: "inclination belonging to things by the disposition of the First Mover" (In Nec Eth sect 21) -->This is why it cannot be in vain

"Rhetoric deals with political matter where a variety of views occurs." Aquinas In NE 36

quality as disposition of substance, quantity as measure of substance, relation as proportion of substance

We honor things insofar as they are principles of good.

(1) Sense and reference are determined by logical function and do not pre-exist it.
(2) Words may a priori be given any meaning, with any logical function, but are a posteriori constrained by contexts of communication.
(3) Whether the sense of a word in use is literal or figurative is external to word, use, and sense, being the relation of the word to common and expected uses of such a word.

troping of a word by resemblance (similarity), by contiguity (proximate association), and by contrariety (inversion)

Close attention to conversations shows that people will sometimes use facial expressions and physical movements not merely in addition to words but in place of words, substituting them for nouns and verbs.

Sense and reference, being logical functions, can be found for metaphorical, ironic, etc. uses of language.

Devotion to virtue requires deference to the virtuous.

Man being a rational and therefore social animal, constancy or steadfastness in virtue requires loyalty to a community devoted to virtue, even if only abstractly conceived.

the recuperative character of loyalty

When we try to say what a term means taken literally, we soon find that there is no end to things we may mention; thus we cut our description off according to some standard of relevance.

Literal statements in context suggest possible games of make-believe.

conceptual unblending

Both homonyms and words with lots of possible meanings show that the same sentence can have very different literal interpretations in different contexts.

Potentiality is not the reason for our ability to choose among options but the reason why our choice is so limited; the more potential a thing is, the more factors on which it necessarily depends.

Miracles are simultaneously wonders, signs, and acts of power. (cf. Jn 2:11)

infinitely overdetermined truths

The repentance of the penitent can be moral of itself, but something more is required to make it holy.

snow-cadence, snow-surgence

markets as discovery engines

worthiness to learn as a characteristic of charity

teaching : intellectual virtue :: custom : moral virtue

virtue and vice as the principles for evaluating good and bad constitutions

There is a perpetual danger in medical legislation and regulation of making doctors, nurses, etc., mere means, as if they were not persons themselves.

Human feeling is banished by perception of monotony.

Consent is important in medicine not merely for reasons of autonomy or dignity but also because of something subtly different: the need for medicine to be a cooperative venture by its very nature. Patients cannot merely be patients, even where they cannot be perfect agents, or require representation, or proxy agency. This cooperative character is linked to, but distinct from, the issue of dignity.

moral luck as a reason for compassion and forgiveness

Madame Bovary as a study of the usurious life (across the range of human concern)

Greek tragedy is far more capable of depicting the fantastic than other dramatic forms precisely because of the Greek convention of keeping the most fantastic elements offstage (it is in this sense that, despite brilliant literary use of it in Euripides, deus ex machina is a degeneration of the tragic art).

Every kind of literacy is a set of critical thinking skills for a relevant set of genres, vocabularies, and texts.

Government expenditure for symbolic gestures is expenditure for something with an extraordinary rate of inflation.

A mistake in interpreting Aquinas that is made even by Thomists is not recognizing that Thomas's account of act & potency, etc., is not Aristotle's but a generalized version of Aristotle's account.

a Humean-association mathematics of shapes, etc.
(1) resemblance-functions
(2) contiguity-functions

the Eucharist as seal of solidarity
sacraments as emblems that transfigure

the galley effect & a Humean theory of diagrammatic reasoning

burdens of refraining from proof -- it's clear that they seem rare, but as sometimes proof is a non-issue, suspense of the attempt to prove will be possible as an obligation of discourse

metaphors as microarguments
summation of argument by metaphor

The natural mode of holiness in a depraved world is repentance.

'Desire' is said in many ways.

Taylor is surely right that the argument religious experience turns chiefly on the question not of distinctive experiences so much as grounds of interpretation. This then makes a link with the theory of taste, which concerns itself with good interpretations based on experiential data and refinable through experience and reflection.

a system of parables as tautegorical: the natural way to explicate parable is by parable

Dispositio proceeds from inventio; elocutio proceeds from inventio through dispositio.

The modern world has a nasty habit of trying to collapse deliberative (civic) oratory into forensic oratory, thus shifting from dehortation and inexpediency to accusation and injustice whenever it can.

Homiletics is a branch of epideictic rather than either forensic or deliberative oratory because its purpose is neither to persuade nor to judge, but to show; at least qua homiletics.

A little truth can satisfy multitudes of minds and still be overflowing and abundant in its fruits.

Rationalization is checkable conjecture.

circle as quasi-point

Mission follows procession; manifestation is the reverse.

specifying contrastives vs restricting contrastives

( ( ( ( ( x = focal ritual ) ) ) )
to focal
focal ritual administration arises
as authority over focal ritual
but indirectly extends over diffuse ritual
-> All three, focal ritual, diffuse ritual, and ritual administration, contribute to cooperative interaction (cooperative interaction is broader than cooperation in the sense of particular cooperative projects)

"The very nature of a true philosophy relatively to other systems is to be polemical, eclectic, unitive." Newman

mythology as "nature elevated into the spiritual realm through an enhancing refractions" (Schelling)

the ethical need for refreshment from evil

What is most desirable is most properly said to be.

Utilitarianism of the hedonic type would be more plausible and powerful if it concerned itself with the pleasurable rather than with pleasures.

Contrary to common assumptions, intensity of pleasure is not a reliable measure of how pleasurable something is.

Kant's idea of time as idea of rhythm; idea of space as idea of dwelling

Hume T
(1) The capacity of the mind is not infinite. (premise)
(2) No idea of extension or duration consists of infinite parts. (from 1)
(3) Every idea of extension or duration consists of a finite number of simple, indivisible parts. (from 1/2)
(4) It is possible for space and time to exist such that they consist of a finite number of simple, indivisible parts. (from 2/3)
(5) Infinite divisibility is impossible.
(6) Space and time must exist in this way. (4/5)
-> Note that Malebranche accepts (1) but denies (2) in a relevant sense.

If we translate Kant into Aristotelian terms, we can turn the Formula of Ends into something like, "Never act in a way inconsistent with friendship of excellence." This is right, properly understood is self-evidence, and can reasonably be said to be categorical.

Euclid as 'one diagram, one argument' because stipulation is only allowed within the context of one diagram

Mary is blessed not for the mere physical fact of being the mother of Christ but for the fact that she was so because she heard the Word of God and did it. (Lk 11:27-28; cf also Lk 1:39ff).

The Church does not merely pray to be blessed; it prays to be blessed through the Virgin and the saints.

(1) the need for a theory of practical rationality
(1a) relevance of rationality to practice
(1b) the general nature of practical reasoning
(2) practical rationality of obligations
(2a) law in general (obligation)
(2b) natural law in particular (fundamental moral obligation)
(2c) practical application of natural law
(3) practical rationality of appropriateness
(3a) taste in general
(3b) good taste in general
(3c) prudence
(3d) art/skill

The desire for freedom is deep within us, but freedom itself must be learned.

Synaxis is inherently Eucharistic in character.

The secular, properly understood, is simply the realm in which the primary obligations are those of ordinary conscience of institutional requirements.

In the Assumption, God lifts up the lowly as a sign that Christ has subjected all things beneath his feet.

Mary & the place prepared by God for Israel

the Assumption as the Gospel Acclamation of salvation history

Bede mostly appeals to posthumous miracles as evidence of the devotion of the saint in question. (cf. his comment on King Oswald at Hist 3.12)

It would be valuable to look at Bede's use of testimony chains when he talks of miracles.

"Only good where evil was, is evil dead." MacDonald

Realism in any field of art is really appearance-ism.

People often substitute for rational thought glowing visions of themselves being, as they think, rational.

The hieratic features of inquiry are not completely eliminable, due to the nature of truth itself.

Most discussions of pleasure fail to distinguish between pleasantness and pleasure.

A philosopher may assent to the immortality of the soul, but a Christian may live it.

"No reform can be effected without sacrifice, and sacrifice comes not from selfishness." Brownson

A reasonable person must be figurative-minded.

The notion of the infinite is implicit in the intelligibility of being.

literal text as a sort of limit of figurative text

As rational norms are just the ethics of inquiry, people who do not accept the possibility of an objective morality are committed to there being no objective rational standards.

Music for Holy Week: English

Fernando Ortega, "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross". Difficulty to beat Isaac Watts.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Links for Noting

* Zac Alstin reviews Ian Ker's biography of Chesterton.

* Lisa Herzog has an article on Markets at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

* Tristan Haze on the truth-functional account of indicative conditionals

* David Bressan on Newton's Alchemy and Early Geochemistry

* An inventor in Malawi; quite awesome -- this is the spirit that makes one proud to be human.

* Pakistanis still remember Shahbaz Bhatti.

* Skholiast on quality, relation, sign.

* Juan Gomez on the relation between Joseph Butler's Analogy and experimental philosophy.

* A Sinner had two interesting posts a while back on papal succession:

Notes on the Count of Popes

Regnal Numbers

* A good theological discussion on the knowledge of Christ

* I meant to comment on T. J. Logan's discussion of Johann Georg Hamann, but never had the time to get around to it. Hamann, the Magus of the North, as he is sometimes called, is an interesting philosopher who deserves to be more broadly discussed. He's also the only fideist I've ever come across who is really worth taking seriously.

* Ayn Rand's marginalia on C. S. Lewis's Abolition of Man. What strikes me most about it is that she actually read the whole book through.


Think then, what position can be more brilliant than that of the holy Apostles? or what more attractive of attention than their friendship with God? A man who is of little account in life would not be likely to experience this passion: for it always avoids one who possesses nothing that others can envy and nothing that is inaccessible to those whose lot is of no consequence in the world; for how could such a one possibly exhibit vainglory on any subject whatever? But pride is a feeling dear to a man when he is in an enviable position, and when for this reason he thinks himself better than his neighbour; foolishly supposing that he differs very greatly from the rest of mankind, as having achieved some special and surpassing degree of excellence, or as having followed a path of policy unfamiliar to and untrodden by the rest of the world. Since therefore it has come to be regularly characteristic of all who hold brilliant positions to be liable to attacks of the infirmity of pride, it was surely needful for the holy Apostles to find in Christ a Pattern of a modest temper; so that, having the Lord of all as their model and standard, they themselves also might mould their own hearts according to the Divine will. In no other way therefore (as it seems) could He rid them from the infirmity, except by teaching them clearly that each one should regard himself as inferior in honour to the rest, even so far as to feel bound to undertake the part of a servant, without shrinking from discharging even the lowest of menial offices; [and this He taught them] by both washing the feet of the brethren and girding on a towel in order to perform the act. For consider what utterly menial behaviour it is, I mean according to the world's way of thinking and outward practice. Therefore Christ has become a Pattern of a modest and unassuming temper to all living men, for we must not suppose the teaching was meant for the disciples alone. Accordingly the inspired Paul also, taking Christ as a standard, exhorts to this end, saying: Let each one of you have this mind in himself, which was also in Christ Jesus. And again: In lowliness of mind each counting other better than himself. For in a lowly temper there is established a settled habit of love and of yielding to the will of others.

St. Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on the Gospel of John, Book IX

Music for Holy Week: Cajun French

Les Amies Louisianaises, "La Grace du Ciel".

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Cardinal Virtues

It has been a crazy-busy week! In my intro course am currently teaching medieval accounts of goodness, virtue, law, and happiness (mostly focusing on Aquinas), before moving on to early modern philosophy, so I've been thinking a lot recently of the cardinal virtues. They're found in Plato, they're found in Aristotle, and they're also found here, a source that's often forgotten, but that has been an important influence on accounts of them for centuries:

NAB: If riches are desirable in life, what is richer than Wisdom, who produces all things? And if prudence is at work, who in the world is a better artisan than she? Or if one loves righteousness, whose works are virtues, She teaches moderation and prudence, righteousness and fortitude, and nothing in life is more useful than these.

KJV: If riches be a possession to be desired in this life; what is richer than wisdom, that worketh all things? And if prudence work; who of all that are is a more cunning workman than she? And if a man love righteousness her labours are virtues: for she teacheth temperance and prudence, justice and fortitude: which are such things, as men can have nothing more profitable in their life.


You know what happens when a portrait that has been painted on a panel becomes obliterated through external stains. The artist does not throw away the panel, but the subject of the portrait has to come and sit for it again, and then the likeness is re-drawn on the same material. Even so was it with the All-holy Son of God. He, the Image of the Father, came and dwelt in our midst, in order that He might renew mankind made after Himself, and seek out His lost sheep, even as He says in the Gospel: "I came to seek and to save that which was lost. This also explains His saying to the Jews: "Except a man be born anew . . ." He was not referring to a man's natural birth from his mother, as they thought, but to the re-birth and re-creation of the soul in the Image of God.

St. Athanasius of Alexandria, On the Incarnation of the Word, Chapter III

Music for Holy Week: Japanese

"Kinasai-omoniwo-oumono". A famous arrangement of Matthew 11:28-30 by Saburo Takada. He was a lay choir director. after the Second Vatican Council, he began composing Catholic hymns and Masses in the Japanese language, and some of them are stunningly beautiful. It was he who composed the standard Japanese version of the Ave Maria.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013


Ignorance is constantly, so to speak, accompanied by rashness, and leads men on to attach great importance to their wretched fancies; and thus those who are the victims of this malady entertain a great idea of themselves, and imagine themselves possessed of such knowledge as no man can gainsay. For they forget, as it seems, Solomon, who says, "Be not wise in your own eyes," that is, according to your own single judgment: and again, that "wisdom not put to the proof goes astray." For we do not necessarily possess true opinions upon every individual doctrine that we hold, but often perhaps abandoning the right path, we err, and fall into that which is not fitting. But I think it right, that exercising an impartial and unprejudiced judgment, and not rendered rash by passion, we should love the truth, and eagerly pursue it.

St. Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on Luke, Sermon XXXVI

Music for Holy Week: Hungarian

Kovács Nóri, "Boldogasszony Anyánk". A sort of Magyar national hymn, it's as sad as it sounds. The last line of each stanza is "Do not forget the poor Hungarians."

Monday, March 25, 2013

Deontic Logic Is a Logic of Solutions

A deontic logic is a modal logic in which the strong modality operator (Box) is interpreted as obligation (or something similar) and the weak modality operator (Diamond) is interpreted as permission or acceptability; in standard deontic logic, the characteristic modal axiom is:

□p → ⋄p

That is, Box implies Diamond. In standard deontic logic, however, Box does not imply True; if X is an obligation, it does not follow that X is true.

I am inclined to think that we largely interpret deontic logics too narrowly. In reality, deontic logics are logics of solutions to problems, and it is this, I think, that makes them suitable for handling obligation and the like, because these are also concerned with solutions to problems. I would like to note a few apparent puzzles of deontic logic that make a bit more sense when we recognize deontic logics as logics of solutions to problems, in which Box consists of conditions that solutions have to meet and Diamond consists of features of solutions that are acceptable.

(1) Deontic Necessitation. Deontic necessitation says that if you can prove p as a logical theorem, you can conclude □p. People tend not to like this rule, but it is required to make standard deontic logic play nicely. It makes plenty of sense if we think about deontic logic as being concerned with the kinds of features that a solution to a problem must have. If you have proven p as a theorem, you have established that it is in some sense necessary; but solutions to problems have to take necessities into account. Therefore if something is proven to be necessary, it is a necessary constraint on solution, or, to put it in other words, the solution ought to take it as a fixed reference point.

Deontic necessitation has the further result that □⊤, where ⊤ is Top, and is usually taken to indicate tautology. And this makes sense as well: solutions have to take tautologies as fixed.

(2) Good Samaritan Paradox. Take the following proposition:

□(Jones helps Smith who was robbed)

It seems to follow that "Jones helps Smith who has been robbed" implies "Smith was robbed and Jones helps Smith". But then it follows:

□(Smith was robbed and Jones helps Smith)

But from this it seems to follow by conjunctive simplification:

□(Smith was robbed).

This seems to be a bit awkward, because it then seems that we are saying that it ought to be true that Smith was robbed. However, if we interpret □ as indicating something that a solution ought to take as a fixed reference point, is there a situation in which this makes sense? Yes, the situation in which the problem is that Smith was robbed. A solution to the problem that Smith was robbed has to take into account the fact that Smith was robbed. And given this interpretation of □ as something with which the solution necessarily has to be consistent, it's pretty clear that

□(Jones helps Smith who was robbed)

does imply

□(Smith was robbed).

(3) Penitent's Paradox. Consider the following proposition:

□~(John does wrong)

□~ usually is taken to mean that it is forbidden in some way. But this proposition implies

□~(John does wrong and John repents of his wrongdoing)

From which it follows:

□~(John repents of his wrongdoing).

But we see that, under the solutions interpretation, our first proposition indicate that we needed to take as a fixed point for our solution "It is false that John does wrong". But given this it is surely not surprising that we should also require our solution not to include his repenting of having done wrong, which seems to imply that he has done wrong.

So we see that the interpretation has some force against puzzles and paradoxes. There are other puzzles and paradoxes that would be more difficult, the most important of which are "conflicting obligation" paradoxes. And it is is important to understand that I am not here saying that standard deontic logic is the only true logic of solutions. I think, in fact, that this is obviously false; there will be problems where the most appropriate solutions will be governed by nonstandard deontic logics. But deontic logics in general are logics of solutions, and taking them as such clarifies a great deal.

This ties in with another important point, which I've argued before, and will not argue here: obligation or 'ought' in our ordinary sense is (at least in many circumstances) appropriately modeled by deontic logic not because deontic logic has only to do with obligation, but because our ordinary sense of 'ought' or obligation primarily concerns the problem of deciding what to do, and therefore indicates a constraint on solutions to this particular problem. But there is nothing hugely mysterious about it; it's just a special, and especially important, version of the general fact that solutions are logically constrained by the problems to which they are put forward. This helps clarify what one really wants in a truly deontic logic, i.e., a logic that really is about moral obligation or duty: one wants a deontic logic, i.e., a logic of solutions, that takes into account the distinctive features of problems concerned with deciding what to do. And almost all the puzzles people have over standard deontic logic concern distinctive features of this particular kind of problem.


Desires are kindled in us in two ways: by the cry of prayer, which makes one groan with the murmuring of one's heart, and by a flash of apprehension by which the mind turns most directly and intensely to the rays of light [Ps., 37, 9].

Therefore to the cry of prayer through Christ crucified, by Whose blood we are purged of the filth of vice, do I first invite the reader, lest perchance he should believe that it suffices to read without unction, speculate without devotion, investigate without wonder, examine without exultation, work without piety, know without love, understand without humility, be zealous without divine grace, see without wisdom divinely inspired. Therefore to those predisposed by divine grace, to the humble and the pious, to those filled with compunction and devotion, anointed with the oil of gladness [Ps., 44, 8], to the lovers of divine wisdom, inflamed with desire for it, to those wishing to give themselves over to praising God, to wondering over Him and to delighting in Him, do I propose the following reflections, hinting that little or nothing is the outer mirror unless the mirror of the mind be clear and polished.

Bestir yourself then, O man of God, you who previously resisted the pricks of conscience, before you raise your eyes to the rays of wisdom shining in that mirror, lest by chance you fall into the lower pit of shadows from the contemplation of those rays.

St. Bonaventure, Journey of the Mind into God, Prologue.

Music for Holy Week: Finnish

Petri Kosonen and Undivided Hearts, "Halleluja, tunnet sydämeni" ("Hallelujah, You Know My Heart").

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Lord Dunsany, The King of Elfland's Daughter


Opening Passage:

In their ruddy jackets of leather that reached to their knees the men of Erl appeared before their lord, the stately white-haired man in his long red room. He leaned in his carven chair and heard their spokesman.

And thus their spokesman said.

"For seven hundred years the chiefs of your race have ruled us well; and their deeds are remembered by the minor minstrels, living on yet in their little tinkling songs. And yet the generations stream away, and there is no new thing."

"What would you?" said the lord.

"We would be ruled by a magic lord," they said.

"So be it," said the lord....

Summary: Once upon a time there was a little land called Erl. It was happy and peaceful and prosperous. But alone of all the lands of the world it had no claim to fame or recognition. Unnoticed and unremembered, it continued on its way in the fields that we know, and the Parliament of Erl decided to remedy this by seeking some magical wonder that would make their land famous. If the lord who ruled them was in some way magical, this would make them the wonder of that part of the world. Now as it happened, the lands of the Elfking bordered on the land of Erl in those days.

Therefore the lord of Erl, in obedience to the Parliament of Erl, set for his son, whose name was Alveric, a quest to pass beyond the fields we know and enter the dominions of the Elfking, and travel through that perilous realm until he reached the palace that can be described only in song. More perilously, he was to return with the King of Elfland's daughter, that they might marry. To this end the lord gave his son the sword of his fathers.

But Alveric knew that no human sword could avail anything in the realm of the Elfking. Therefore he sought out the witch Ziroonderel. She bade him gather lightning bolts from her garden, where they had fallen from the heavens, beyond both the realms of the Elfking and the fields that we know, and with his help she forged a magical sword. With it Alveric journeyed in the direction of the Elfin Mountains, which lay blanketed in a perpetual twilight of extraordinary beauty and color. He passed over the border of that twilight and through the enchanted wood and came to the palace of the Elfking, the palace that can be described only in song. And there he met and spoke with the King of Elfland's daughter, whose name was Lirazel, and told her stories of the fields that we know. And she sighed to know them and experience the beauty of their passing, for our lands and the land of the King of Elfland are very different. In the fields that we know, Time is master, and hurries us from moment to moment whether we will or nill; but the lands of the King of Elfland have no allegiance to Time, and there no moment passes until the fullness of it has been experienced.

Then Alveric was set upon by the guards of the Elfking, who were protected by mighty runes; but the runes were broken by the power of the magical sword. And when he had slain the guards, he and Lirazel fled the realm of the Elfking and returned to the fields that we know. There Alveric found that ten years had passed on this side of the border, and that his father was dead. Then he and Lirazel went to the holy place, that the Freer might wed them in a Christom wedding. And although the Freer knew that she, like a mermaid, was beyond salvation, he wed them, and they soon had a son. They were happy for a time, and Lirazel, though she had lived in the calm of Elfland, and had been raised in the palace that can be described only in song, loved her life with Alveric. But there was nonetheless a great gulf between the two. Who can truly understand our ways who does not understand allegiance to Time? Many of the things done by men and women remained utterly beyond her comprehension, nor could she ever learn.

So it was with the stars. Of all the things that pertain to the fields we know, the stars are most wondrous, and Elfland in its endless twilight knows nothing of them. Lirazel loved the stars, and reverenced them; but she was soon told that she must not pray to them, or show them reverence, for it was a heathen thing. Thus she called her son Orion, for the stars seemed most worthy of reverence of all the things in the fields we know, and thus it seemed she must honor them, but she could not show them any overt honor.

Now there was in the possession of the Elfking three mighty runes, the greatest powers and defenses of his realm. One he used to restore the lives of the guards killed by Alveric. The second he placed on a parchment and gave to a troll to give to the Princess Lirazel. This the troll did. But Lirazel did not read it, placing it instead in a casket.

Not long after, Alveric took her to the Freer to learn the reverencing of the bells and the other holy things; but the ways were strange to her. When walking in the fields at night, she drew out of the stream four large stones, and began to use them to practice reverencing the things of the Freer, one for a candlestick, one for a bowl, and so forth. Alveric found her praying to the stones, and he was angry, for it was a very heathen thing. And his anger pierced her through, because she had only been trying to learn how to worship his holy things in order to please him. And their life grew unhappy together, until one day Lirazel out of petulance drew the rune out of its casket. All day she played with her son, the rune in her hand. It had been only a petulant whim that had led her to take it up, and the whim would have passed on its own; but the rune was in her hand, and she read it.

Great magic poured across the border from Elfland, and a great wind came up and blew Lirazel to her former home. Alveric set out to return her, but the King of Elfland could sense the magic of his sword as it drew near to the borders of Elfland, and he put forth his might hand and, wherever Alveric drew near, drewn in the border of Elfland, so that Alveric might never return.

Alveric, however, would not desist from his attempt to be reunited with Lirazel, and continued to seek the borders of Elfland, abandoning his kingdom. And Orion grew and became a mighty hunter.

Slowly over time, Orion brought magic to the kingdom of Erl, first by killing a unicorn, then, in an attempt to catch one again, by bringing into Erl some of the magical creatures who live on the borders of Elfland. For once he had captured a unicorn, his heart could not rest with the game of the fields we know. And this continued until the Parliament of Erl, the same who had demanded a magic lord, grew afraid, for everywhere in the land of Erl there was now the dancing of will o' the wisps and the gibbering of trolls.

In Elfland, Lirazel was with her father in the palace that can be described only in song, and although she was calm as all things in Elfland are calm, nonetheless the memory of the fields we know could not be undone, and it disturbed the tranquility of Elfland. She thought of Alveric and Orion passing away in the lands that owe allegiance to Time, and begged her father to bring them over the border into Elfland, where they would be free from the passage of Time, and perhaps also to bring over violets or cowslips or others of the simple flowers of our fields that she had grown to love. But her father had only one kind of magic that could cross the borders of Elfland in this way, and that was the last of the three runes, the last great defense of the realm. Without it the material powers beyond his borders, which could grow and increase, and put into bondage the powers on this side of the border; and without this last great defense, they would have nothing to fear in Elfland, which would become only a fable. He was loth to use such a thing and risk the fate of his realm. Yet her sorrow was unconsolable, and disturbed the calm of Elfland, until at last he used the third rune.

By the power of that rune, Elfland flooded forth, its borders expanding, drawing into itself what once was outside it, until at last Erl was drawn within its borders. And there Erl passed beyond all human history. Unnoticed and unremembered, it dreamed in the calm of Elfland, for it no longer belonged to the fields that we know.

In his introduction to his selections from the tales of Lord Dunsany, W. B. Yeats says:

His travellers, who travel by so many rivers and deserts and listen to sounding names none heard before, come back with no tale that does not tell of vague rebellion against that power, and all the beautiful things they have seen get something of their charm from the pathos of fragility. This poet who has imagined colours, ceremonies and incredible processions that never passed before the eyes of Edgar Allen Poe or of De Quincey, and remembered as much fabulous beauty as Sir John Mandeville, has yet never wearied of the most universal of emotions and the one most constantly associated with the sense of beauty; and when we come to examine those astonishments that seemed so alien we find that he has but transfigured with beauty the common sights of the world.

Although Yeats was speaking of other works, it is very much true of The King of Elfland's Daughter, for much of its power is that by setting the fields that we know beside the kingdom of Elfland, he shows us things in "the common sights of the world" that we have never noticed, or that, if we have, we have long forgotten. Knowing nothing but Time, we hardly see the wonder of the things that pass until somehow they are caught, impossibly suspended by some power we cannot fathom, each moment rich with infinite significance. And seeing things from Lirazel's eyes, or the eyes of the trolls, we learn the strangeness of the magic of Time itself, which takes beauties away almost as soon as they are born, and pushes them out of the fields that we know. The human mind learns to appreciate things by contrast. How, then, can we fully appreciate the beauty of the only world we know unless we see it compared with a world we have never known? And how can we know the significance of Time until we compare it with the calm of Elfland?

Favorite Passage:

"They die," said the grizzled troll. "And the others dig in their earth and put them in, as I have seen them do, and then they go to Heaven, as I have heard them tell." And a shudder went through the trolls far over the floor of the forest.

And Lurulu who had sat angry all this while to hear that weighty troll speak ill of Earth, where he would have them come, to astonish them with its quaintness, spoke now in defence of Heaven.

"Heaven is a good place," he blurted hotly, though any tales he had heard of it were few.

"All the blessed are there," the grizzled troll replied, "and it is full of angels. What chance would a troll have there? The angels would catch him, for they say on Earth that the angels all have wings; they would catch a troll and smack him forever and ever."

And all the brown trolls in the forest wept.

"We are not so easily caught," Lurulu said.

"They have wings," said the grizzled troll.

And all were sorrowful and shook their heads, for they knew the speed of wings.

Recommendation: Despite its shortness, this is a book that should only be read when you have leisure time to appreciate its descriptions. However, I recommend it highly.

Music for Holy Week: Swahili

Gloria Muliro, "Amini" (Believe). The chorus is something like:
Believe, my friend (God will lift you up)
Believe in your heart (God will lift you up)
Do not worry (God will lift you up)
Do not fear (God will lift you up)
Even if you are the least (God will lift you up)
Even if you are weary (God will lift you up)
Do not worry (God will lift you up)
Do not hurry (God will lift you up)

There really isn't anything profoundly thematic about this series; the music will be all different styles and won't have any particular link to the day on which they are posted. They're just from all over, and a reminder that Easter will be all over the place.