Saturday, November 02, 2013

Love Pent Up

Today is the Feast of All Souls, of course, which concerns the souls in Purgatory. From the Treatise on Purgatory of St. Catherine of Genoa, which is arguably the most important theological treatise on the subject:

These works, which God effects in the soul by Himself alone, which are the last operations of pure and simple love in which we have no merit, so pierce and inflame the soul that the body which envelops her seems to be hiding a fire, or like one in a furnace, who can find no rest but death. It is true that the divine love which overwhelms the soul gives, as I think, a peace greater than can be expressed; yet this peace does not in the least diminish her pains, nay, it is love delayed which occasions them, and they are greater in proportion to the perfection of the love of which God has made her capable.
[Catherine of Genoa and Don Cattaneo Marabotto, The Spiritual Doctrine of Saint Catherine of Genoa, TAN Books (1989), p. 318. This passage is from Chapter XII of the Treatise on Purgatory.]

On Catherine's account, Purgatory is love pent up. In a sense, the souls in purgatory suffer because of the blocks that their life of sins created, and which still remain as consequences of sin even though they themselves have become free of sin. Their love of God has become so intense that the suffering of Purgatory is nothing other than the bursting of love through these blocks, like a river breaking through a dam. It is a voluntary suffering, as well; in Catherine's image, the gates of Heaven are always open. The souls that are in Purgatory are undergoing their purification because they truly love God: they will allow no internal obstacles to their union with God, and because they still need to clear them all away, this is why they suffer: it is the suffering of pure love pent up, delayed in its complete expression. And they endure it patiently because the very same love means that they will settle for nothing less.

Something roughly similar is found in Newman's Dream of Gerontius:

When then—if such thy lot—thou seest thy Judge,
The sight of Him will kindle in thy heart
All tender, gracious, reverential thoughts.
Thou wilt be sick with love, and yearn for Him,
And feel as though thou couldst but pity Him,
That one so sweet should e'er have placed Himself
At disadvantage such, as to be used
So vilely by a being so vile as thee.
There is a pleading in His pensive eyes
Will pierce thee to the quick, and trouble thee.
And thou wilt hate and loathe thyself; for, though
Now sinless, thou wilt feel that thou hast sinn'd,
As never thou didst feel; and wilt desire
To slink away, and hide thee from His sight:
And yet wilt have a longing aye to dwell
Within the beauty of His countenance.
And these two pains, so counter and so keen,—
The longing for Him, when thou seest Him not;
The shame of self at thought of seeing Him,—
Will be thy veriest, sharpest purgatory.

And later:

I go before my Judge. Ah! ….

…. Praise to His Name!
The eager spirit has darted from my hold,
And, with the intemperate energy of love,
Flies to the dear feet of Emmanuel;
But, ere it reach them, the keen sanctity,
Which with its effluence, like a glory, clothes
And circles round the Crucified, has seized,
And scorch'd, and shrivell'd it; and now it lies
Passive and still before the awful Throne.
O happy, suffering soul! for it is safe,
Consumed, yet quicken'd, by the glance of God.

St. Catherine puts a much a greater emphasis on the joy and peace of the souls in Purgatory, though.

Links of Note

* John Wilkins recently had two very good posts on species concepts:
Articles of faith: The theological and philosophical origins of the concept of species

Are species theoretical objects?

* An interesting discussion of student evaluations of teaching at NewAPPS

* "A Clerk of Oxford" discusses King Alfred the Great -- one of those few kings who really did deserve the title "Great".

* Stephen Colbert at the Alfred E Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner

* Reviews are one of those things that are always hit-or-miss, but this review by Alice MacLachlan of E. M. Dadlez's Mirrors to One Another: Emotion and Value in Jane Austen and David Hume is genuinely excellent, and does everything a short scholarly review should do. Anyone doing a review should consider using it as a model.

* Amid all the debacle over the website, it is perhaps worthwhile to note that they are relatively insignificant compared to the IT problems of the British government.

Computers are a weak point for governments in general. Governments tend to be quite good with small IT projects that are already very, very focused, especially if they literally can't be changed for mathematical or physical reasons. On occasions they are even better than corporations, because corporations rarely have the sheer shiploads of money to throw at details and can't usually hold their contractors' feet over fires that are quite as hot if things go wrong. However, governments don't focus well. Political negotiation is not a stable or reliable way to come up with technical specifications. Governments in practice work not by giving people precise specifications but general guidelines and just letting them do whatever to fulfill them as long as they do so in ways that withstand the Byzantine politics of review; the people in charge often don't know how to give a precise specification of a project. Likewise, in politics, everything is in a constant state of adaptation: sticking firmly to the original idea is not usually useful for political negotiation or, if you are civil service, for working with politicians, so governments are tempted to change the project requirements at the drop of a hat. The list of problems could be expanded. Bureaucracies tweak, politicians fiddle; the result for any big project is almost always a mess.

* The Darwins consider how Sense and Sensibility might be modernized.



It’s not exactly a vote of confidence in the powers that be: A sizable number of Americans think the undead would do a better job than the brain dead in Washington, D.C.

Thirty-seven percent (37%) of American Adults believe the federal government would do a better job than zombies running the country today. But the latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that most Americans don’t share that view, with just as many (37%) who feel zombies would do a better job running the country and another 26% who can’t decide between the two. (To see survey question wording, click here.)

Even pollsters need to have their fun; although there probably is a need for survey questions on which Americans provide sarcastic answers. And at least zombies are interested in using brains.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Music on My Mind

Kate Miller-Heidke, "Last Day on Earth".

All Saints

2010 All Saints Post
Moses the Black of Ethiopia, Micae Hồ Đình Hy, Katherine Mary Drexel, Robert Southwell, Lojze Grozde, Andrew Kim Tae Gon

2011 All Saints Post
Bonifacia Rodríguez de Castro, Celestine V, Olga of Kiev, Cyril of Jerusalem, Joseph Mukasa and Charles Lwanga

2012 All Saints Post
Jadwiga of Poland, Kateri Tekakwitha, André Bessette, Rafqa Pietra Choboq Ar-Rayès, Alberto Hurtado Cruchaga

María Guadalupe García Zavala

Mother Lupita, as she was usually known, lived a relatively quiet life, but she did so under extraordinary circumstances. She lived in the Mexican state of Jalisco, where she founded a congregation of sisters, the Handmaids of St. Margaret Mary and of the Poor, who lived exactly as their name suggests: they devoted themselves to assisting the poor in any needs that came up, deliberately living the life of poverty in order that the poverty of others might not be so severe. They were particularly concerned with helping the poor who were sick, and began creating hospitals; Mother Lupita herself served as one of the nurses. When resources for the hospital grew too tight, she would go out and beg until she had collected enough money to meet the need, and she was always careful never to ask for more than was strictly necessary. During her lifetime tensions between the Mexican government and the Catholic Church grew very high; she lived during the Cristero War. At great risk to herself she would often hide priests who were being hunted down, including the Archbishop of Guadalajara himself. She died at the age of 85 in Guadaljara, and her feast day is June 24.

Antonio Primaldi

The fifteenth century saw the beginning of the ascension of the Ottoman Empire. The Byzantine Empire, its major Eastern opponent, was finally crushed completely in 1453 after having been slowly beaten back, and the Ottoman armies began to spread into Europe. On July 28, 1480, the Ottomans invaded Otranto in southern Italy with a large fleet and well-discipline army. The citizens retreated the Castle of Otranto, but they could not hold out long, and by August 11 the Ottomans held the fortress. The precise details of what happened next are a matter of dispute; Italian accounts from the period claim, and Turkish accounts deny, that the Turks massacred several thousand citizens; and according to local legend 813 men were given the choice of converting to Islam or dying, and chose death. There is reason to think that this number is a legendary rather than exact number or else that it may include people who fell in battle or in its immediate aftermath. Among the men who fell, regardless of the exact circumstance, was Antonio Primaldi, called Antonio Pezzulla in some sources, an aged and respected tailor who, according to the legend, was chosen as the spokesman for the town. He died of beheading. The Ottoman army began to use Otranto as a foothold for a further invasion of Italy, but the Italian city states rallied and beat them back, and Otranto was recaptured in 1481. The feast day of Antonio Primaldi and the Martyrs of Otranto is August 14.

Nimatullah Kassab Al-Hardini

Born Youssef Kassab in Lebanon, Nimatullah took the name 'Nimatullah' when he joined the Lebanese Maronite Order. He became a seminary teacher and was active in the Order, although he vigorously refused to be made Abbot General. He became renowned for his piety, and was commonly called the Saint of Kfifan, and people came from miles around asking for his advice and prayers. His students became important in an upsurge of Maronite spiritual life, and included St. Charbel Makhluf. He died in 1858 and his feast day is December 14.

Gabriel-Taurin Dufresse and Augustine Zhao Rong

The position of Catholics in China during the Qing dynasty was often precarious; but after toleration under several emperors, things took a turn for the worse under the Jiaqing Emperor, who added Christianity to the list of capital offenses. In practice, Chinese Christians were often not killed, but simply sold into slavery to Muslims, who had a limited license for practice in China at that time; but European missionaries were, as well as some Chinese Christians who were made special examples. On May 18, 1815, Monsignor Dufresse was rounded up with a number of other priests and ultimately executed later that year. One of the soldiers who had been assigned to escort Dufresse from Chengdu to Beijing was so impressed by Dufresse's calm and patience that he became Catholic; this was Augustine Zhao Rong, who was baptized and then began to attend seminary. He was arrested and executed, also later in 1815.

Josephine Margaret Bakhita

Josephine Bakhita was born in the Sudan, in the late nineteenth century, a free and happy girl; but somewhere between the ages of seven and nine she was kidnapped by slave traders. She was bought and sold, and bought and sold, and bought and sold, and through all the suffering and beatings and cruel treatment she forgot her original name, and only went by a nickname one of the slave traders gave her: Bakhita, 'lucky'. In 1883 she was bought by the Italian Vice Consul, and when he fled to avoid the Mahdist revolution, Bakhita went with them. When in Italy, Bakhita was temporarily housed with the Canossian Sisters as the family was trying to handle some real estate issues; but when the Italian family returned to reclaim her, Bakhita refused to go. The family had recourse to the courts, but the courts ruled that since slavery had been illegal in both Italy and the Sudan, she had never legally been a slave. Thus Bakhita was free to choose her own way of life; and she chose to stay with the Canossian Sisters who had supported her. She was baptized as Josephine Margaret Fortunata. She became actively involved in the missionary work of the Canossian Sisters, telling them about her experiences and preparing them for missionary work in Africa. Because she served as cook and porter of the local convent, she was in constant contact with the townspeople, who continued to remember her even after her death. She died in 1947 and her feast day is February 8.

John Chrysostom

'Chrysostomos' is Greek for 'golden-mouthed'. Young John in the fourth century studied in the finest rhetorical schools of his day, under the pagan rhetorician Libanius. According to the story that has come down to us, Libanius on his deathbed was asked who should be his successor, and Libanius replied that it should be John, if the Christians hadn't stolen him. John originally wanted to be hermit, but nearly ruined his health by rushing into ascetic practices (a common problem in the day), and was forced to return to the city. There he eventually became right-hand man to the Bishop of Antioch, and was instrumental in helping to restore Antioch to communion with Rome and Alexandria, with which it had been estranged. These were, of course, the days when the Rome-Alexandria alliance was the bulwark of the faith, and this alliance would play a significant role in Chrysostom's life. He became very popular among the people for his earnest and beautiful sermons urging people to remember the poor. In 397 he was, through the peculiarities of politics in the capital of the Empire, appointed Bishop of Constantinople, entirely against his will -- he hadn't even known that he had been nominated, and didn't want to leave Antioch, where things were going very well. But the appointment came with the backing of the Emperor, so John couldn't refuse; and he was forced to leave Antioch in secret because there were fears that the people of Antioch would riot in an attempt to keep him. It was not a good start, and things would get worse. John was an eloquent and inspiring speaker, but diplomatic and politic he was not; throwing him into the perpetual political struggles of the Imperial court was like taking a match to a powder keg. It was not long before he had earned the enmity of the Empress, who came to think that his many sermons against the wealthy and in favor of the poor were not-too-subtle attacks on her. This would be bad enough, but the worst of it all is that becoming Bishop of Constantinople put him on a collision course with the most savvy ecclesiastical politician of the day, Bishop Theophilus of Alexandria, nicknamed the Egyptian Pharaoh for his uncanny capacity to use practically any opportunity that came up to increase the power of the See of Alexandria. John's nomination had come about in part as a politically attempt to outmaneuver Theophilus's attempt to get an ally named Bishop of Constantinople; it was a rare political loss for the Egyptian Pharaoh, and John's episcopacy was an impediment to Theophilus's plans. This was made worse when certain monks who had been sharply disciplined by Theophilus fled to Constantinople and put themselves under John's protection. They accused Theophilus of various malfeasances and the Emperor summoned Theophilus to Constantinople to stand trial before Chrysostom on the charges. The Egyptian Pharaoh, cunning as always, came to Constantinople, but on his terms, not the Emperors. Rather than coming immediately, by sea, he took the land route, which took much longer. It gave him time to start pulling in favors, to get on the good side of bishops all through the Syrian regions of the Empire, to convince Rome that here was yet another upstart Bishop of Constantinople pretending that he was bishop of the entire Church, and to make arrangements with people favorable to his cause in the Imperial court. Theophilus had been summoned to come alone, but instead he came with an entourage. The result, which shows the extent to which Theophilus was the grandmaster of ecclesiastical politics, was that when he entered Constantinople, he did so as a celebrity, in the favor the Empress, with a large number of character witnesses, and instead of simply submitting to a trial presided over by Chrysostom, he held a synod, the Synod of the Oak, and deposed and banished John; the Emperor himself consenting to the banishment because John refused to come before the synod. The deposition and banishment did not last long, because people rioted in the city over it and the Empress became suddenly convinced, for reasons that are a bit obscure, that God was going to judge her for her treatment of John. Theophilus cut and ran, and the whole project, which had come so close to succeeding, weakened the Rome-Alexandria alliance, because it led Rome to worry that Alexandria, its primary source of information about what was going on in the East, was deliberately misleading it when it began receiving letters from John over the situation. In any case, despite having, by luck or miracle, survived Theophilus, John stuck his foot in his golden mouth again and, at a dedication of a statue of the Empress, made comments that convinced her he was attacking her again and trying to turn the people against her, and he got banished once more, and died on the road to his place of exile. He is known as a Doctor of the Church and one of the Three Holy Hierarchs. His feast day on the Roman calendar is September 13.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Radio Greats: Donovan's Brain (Suspense)

I don't know if anyone reads Curt Siodmak's works anymore, but he has influenced the horror genre in a very large number of ways. The German mathematician, who had left Germany at the rise of the Nazi party, wrote the screenplay for The Wolf Man, which is the formative werewolf movie. It is Siodmak who invented the idea that werewolves are marked with pentagrams; it is Siodmak who invented the idea that werewolves are vulnerable to silver bullets; and it is Siodmak who gave us the famous verse:

Even a man who is pure in heart,
And says his prayers by night
May become a Wolf when the Wolfbane blooms
And the autumn Moon is bright.

He also wrote the screenplay for one of the more famous zombie movies, I Walked with a Zombie. That enough would make him a major influence. But he also wrote a novel, Donovan's Brain, which was a bestseller in 1942. It was made into three different horror movies (The Lady and the Monster in 1943, Donovan's Brain in 1953, and The Brain in 1962). It was also made into a radio play, twice, for Suspense, one of the most important radio series in the Golden Age.

Suspense, billed as "radio's Outstanding Theater of Thrills", ran for twenty years and 945 episodes. It usually followed a basic formula, in which ordinary people were dropped into bizarre and harrowing situations, and the aim was exactly what the title said -- keep 'em guessing what will happen, how the problem will be solved -- or devastatingly not solved -- until the end. Obviously over that length of time one gets a considerable variation in quality, but the entire series had very high production values and access to the finest stories and the best actors in radio. Even weak episodes are usually at least listenable. Toward the end of its run, it was having difficulties (as all major radio programs did), and was often borrowing scripts (usually from Escape or The Mysterious Traveler, although not uncommonly it also recycled its own scripts) to save money, and the overall quality was in general less. And when it ended in 1962, its end marked the end of the Golden Age of Radio.

Donovan's Brain, however, is from its heyday. It's an unusual episode; the early Suspense did very few science fiction stories, but this was an exception, probably because the story allowed for an unusual amount of psychological drama. It was also a rare two-parter, the first the series did. It stars none other than Orson Welles in a very chilling portrayal. If you really want to know what chills up and down your spine are, listen to Welles, and by the end you'll be getting them every time he starts saying, "Sure, sure, sure, sure...."

The story is about a medical researcher, Dr. Cory, in Phoenix, Arizona who is trying to probe the mysteries of the brain. When an opportunity comes along to try a human brain, that of William H. Donovan, he does not hesitate, and finds much, much more than he bargained for. This is not a story for the faint of heart or weak of stomach; we get a detailed description of a brain surgery at one point, under rather awful conditions. But it's not a nihilistic story, either; perhaps, just perhaps, there is some small divine spark in us that eludes manipulation....

You can listen to both parts of Donovan's Brain. And if you're a little over-chilled by it, you can also hear Welles's brief parody of the episode (and Suspense, and Golden Age radio in general).

Passages on Integrity in Sense and Sensibility

Chapter 15:

"...It must be Willoughby therefore whom you suspect. But why? Is he not a man of honour and feeling? Has there been any inconsistency on his side to create alarm? can he be deceitful?"

"I hope not, I believe not," cried Elinor. "I love Willoughby, sincerely love him; and suspicion of his integrity cannot be more painful to yourself than to me. It has been involuntary, and I will not encourage it...."

Chapter 22:

Lucy was naturally clever; her remarks were often just and amusing; and as a companion for half an hour Elinor frequently found her agreeable; but her powers had received no aid from education: she was ignorant and illiterate; and her deficiency of all mental improvement, her want of information in the most common particulars, could not be concealed from Miss Dashwood, in spite of her constant endeavour to appear to advantage. Elinor saw, and pitied her for, the neglect of abilities which education might have rendered so respectable; but she saw, with less tenderness of feeling, the thorough want of delicacy, of rectitude, and integrity of mind, which her attentions, her assiduities, her flatteries at the Park betrayed; and she could have no lasting satisfaction in the company of a person who joined insincerity with ignorance; whose want of instruction prevented their meeting in conversation on terms of equality, and whose conduct toward others made every shew of attention and deference towards herself perfectly valueless.

Chapter 23:

...Had Edward been intentionally deceiving her? Had he feigned a regard for her which he did not feel? Was his engagement to Lucy an engagement of the heart? No; whatever it might once have been, she could not believe it such at present. His affection was all her own. She could not be deceived in that. Her mother, sisters, Fanny, all had been conscious of his regard for her at Norland; it was not an illusion of her own vanity. He certainly loved her. What a softener of the heart was this persuasion! How much could it not tempt her to forgive! He had been blamable, highly blamable, in remaining at Norland after he first felt her influence over him to be more than it ought to be. In that, he could not be defended; but if he had injured her, how much more had he injured himself; if her case were pitiable, his was hopeless. His imprudence had made her miserable for a while; but it seemed to have deprived himself of all chance of ever being otherwise. She might in time regain tranquillity; but HE, what had he to look forward to? Could he ever be tolerably happy with Lucy Steele; could he, were his affection for herself out of the question, with his integrity, his delicacy, and well-informed mind, be satisfied with a wife like her—illiterate, artful, and selfish?

Chapter 38:

Mrs. Jennings was very warm in her praise of Edward's conduct, but only Elinor and Marianne understood its true merit. THEY only knew how little he had had to tempt him to be disobedient, and how small was the consolation, beyond the consciousness of doing right, that could remain to him in the loss of friends and fortune. Elinor gloried in his integrity; and Marianne forgave all his offences in compassion for his punishment. But though confidence between them was, by this public discovery, restored to its proper state, it was not a subject on which either of them were fond of dwelling when alone. Elinor avoided it upon principle, as tending to fix still more upon her thoughts, by the too warm, too positive assurances of Marianne, that belief of Edward's continued affection for herself which she rather wished to do away; and Marianne's courage soon failed her, in trying to converse upon a topic which always left her more dissatisfied with herself than ever, by the comparison it necessarily produced between Elinor's conduct and her own.

Chapter 41:

Elinor had heard enough, if not to gratify her vanity, and raise her self-importance, to agitate her nerves and fill her mind;—and she was therefore glad to be spared from the necessity of saying much in reply herself, and from the danger of hearing any thing more from her brother, by the entrance of Mr. Robert Ferrars. After a few moments' chat, John Dashwood, recollecting that Fanny was yet uninformed of her sister's being there, quitted the room in quest of her; and Elinor was left to improve her acquaintance with Robert, who, by the gay unconcern, the happy self-complacency of his manner while enjoying so unfair a division of his mother's love and liberality, to the prejudice of his banished brother, earned only by his own dissipated course of life, and that brother's integrity, was confirming her most unfavourable opinion of his head and heart.

The word 'integrity' shows up once in Persuasion, once in Northanger Abbey, once in Emma. It does show up three times in Pride and Prejudice and four times in Mansfield Park, but I think there's a good argument that, while not unimportant, the idea simply does not play as important a role in the actual plot of either work. It does play a crucial role in Sense and Sensibility, however: Lucy Steele's lack of integrity, which is specifically highlighted, is an essential plot point, of course, but much more importantly, the bulk of the actual story of SS is concerned with the two ongoing questions of Willoughby's integrity and Edward's integrity. Perhaps the key evidence, though, is that we get continual reference to the opposite of integrity, this active insincerity or deceitfulness.

I think it's probably significant that there is never any question of the integrity of either heroine -- Elinor, of course, is practically integrity in female form, and, no matter what criticisms can be made of Marianne, insincerity or deceitfulness is not one of them. I also suspect that there's a close connection between the theme of integrity and the repeated return to aesthetic topics in the novel (see, for example, Marianne's comments on the picturesque in Chapter 18, especially the criticism of those for whom talk of the picturesque becomes mere jargon).

Ambassador, Part III

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

The capital of Syan is wherever the Matriarch is officially residing at a time, and the Matriarchs have always changed their official residence quite regularly. However odd it may seem to the Imperial mind, and however difficult it may make matters for foreign envoys, it is a custom to which the Matriarchs faithfully adhere -- in part, I imagine, because it reduces the resources available for plotting and scheming.

At that time, the Matriarch was summering at one of the old Matriarchal castles on Lake Ayssan, which meant that the official capital of Syan was a tiny village called Amansaiva that is apparently three hours away from anywhere. I spent the three hours, when I was not brooding darkly on the follies of my father and brother or wondering whether the Matriarch's preferred choice of death in my case would be poison or firing squad, reflecting on the mystery of how the Matriarch managed to maintain such an iron grip on everything while being so thoroughly inaccessible.

I had hardly eaten anything the whole day -- the only things sold at the stations along the way were saltwater pickles, nasty, foul things that taste as if you were washing your mouth in dirty seawater -- and so was already not in a good mood when we finally came to Amansaiva and found no one to meet me at the station there. No one was at the station at all, except a pickle vendor and an old fortune-teller woman mumbling and cackling to herself as she repeatedly laid out her cards. After asking both of them for transportation, I was forced to buy a saltwater pickle from the pickle vendor just to find that he was the transportation. Thus I, ambassador of the Empire, rode to the embassy on a pickle cart. The vendor was very talkative. Along the way I learned many not-entirely-fascinating facts about pickling.

The ride turned out to be quite long. The 'embassy' was just a log cabin way up in the woods. In the front room of the cabin there was a desk piled with papers and a man who looked like he had been dozing a moment before. I glared at him. He looked blankly at me.

Finally, he said, in a dialect I could not quite place, "Can I help you?"

It would be inappropriate for me to relay my response. It is inexcusable for a man of the Empire to act with anger, but I had had a long trip, during which I had eaten practically nothing, and had the rotten smell of saltwater pickles hanging around me until I was nauseous, only to find my staff apparently lazy and incompetent.

The man at the desk, once sorted out properly, informed me that the rest of the staff were at the castle, and would be there for much of the rest of the day; apparently there was an office set aside in the castle itself for them. So I asked for transportation to the castle.

"Transportation?" he said blankly.

Trying not to seethe, I carefully explained to him what transportation was.

"Yes, Ambassador," he said, "but everything we have is at the castle."

I asked for a map, which was a request he was fortunately competent enough to understand, and began estimating how long it would take to walk to the castle. Fortunately, it would certainly not take long; the cabin -- thinking of the ugly little building as an 'embassy' was going to take some time -- was relatively close to the castle, and I could certainly walk the distance in no more time than it had taken the pickle cart to carry me to the cabin.

"But surely you could wait until tomorrow," the man at the desk protested.

I frowned. "And waste daylight? What kind of Imperial citizen are you?" This silenced him completely, and I am afraid I could not entirely suppress the feeling of satisfaction at this.

So I walked to the castle. By the time I had arrived and gone through security, it was nearly sunset, and I had dust on my boots and mud splatters on my slacks, but I was there, and I set about straightway to find the Imperial office.

It was more like an Imperial broom closet, with barely enough room for a desk. Behind it sat a man in an inexpensive green jacket; he was talking to a man, just outside the door, in a very expensive blue jacket. They were both startled to see me. The man in the green jacket, a dark-haired, snub-nosed character with an accent even more barbarous than that of the man at the embassy (what backwoods provincials do they stock these offices with, I was wondering at that point), was my chief of staff. The other man was an ambassador from the Five Cities Republic.

"Delighted to meet you," he said cheerfully. "I was just offering my condolences on the passing of your predecessor. Excellent man, excellent man."

"Your kindness is much appreciated," I said. I then stood there and waited until he took the hint and, glancing at my chief of staff, took leave.

"Please arrange a meeting with the Matriarch at her earliest convenience."

"It would probably be easier to get a meeting tomorrow...."

"I don't recall asking you to arrange it at your earliest convenience," I said curtly.

"But, Ambassador...."

I would likely have lost my temper again -- twice in one day, how embarrassing and inappropriate for a man from a senatorial family -- but we were interrupted at that moment by a messenger, who brought word that the Matriarch would like to see the Imperial ambassador at his earliest convenience.

I shot the chief of staff a triumphant look and said, "My earliest convience is now."

The messenger led me through the castle, which was dizzyingly maze-like, and we eventually came to the Matriarch's own office. I was announced, and then met the woman herself -- an almost mousy-looking woman, like someone's aunt, and not at all like you would expect an iron-fisted dictator to look.

She looked me up and down shrewdly, then, fixing me with a cool glance said (and it was very disconcerting), "Well, at least the Empire has sent me a pretty one this time."

to be continued

Poem a Day 31

The Poet as Philosopher

These poems I have written thirty days,
some bad, some good, but written on the dot.
You doubtless think it nothing but some play;
if so, then you know nothing of my thought
and have in false assumption thus been caught.
You think in writing these philosophy
was different from idea and word I sought?
Then fool you were, and fool you stay, and ought.

The poets reason well in things they say,
though you may slight their words as you were taught;
and yes, may then go wrong -- so also may
the finest arguments that mind has wrought.
'They argue not' -- your sleeping brain must rot;
the bard must work with plausibility
but argument he does; he hammers thought.
Thus fool you were, and fool you stay, and ought.

He cannot prove, perhaps, or rarely may,
but reasoning is what he does, and not
some gibber on the page. He puts more thought
in all the thoughts he writes, and what to say,
than you have ever done. And in his play
knows reasoning your mind has not been taught.
And yea, does more with hints of plausibility
than you have to done for true philosophy.

And if you cannot see ideas in poems caught?
Then fool you were, and fool you stay, and ought.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Poem a Day 30


Not today, Tantalus, the waters tempt again,
not today, Ixion, the wheel will, burning, turn,
nor even, Tityus, the vulture nips with pain,
nor even, Sisyphus, the stone once rolled returns,
but time itself has stopped. The shadow world is calmed
by power born of lyre that covers all with balm.

And you, O most feared god, on dark and judging throne!
You cannot weep. But look, O god, unto your queen,
who weeps beside your seat. You once were god alone,
and knew the name of loss and felt the longing keen.
Behold, the Furies weep, in tears compassionate,
as scourges lie unused, in sorrows desolate.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Rational Emotion

The concept of a rational emotion, of anger or fear or love or shame, felt and displayed rationally, is not, as is perhaps still widely supposed, some sort of oxymoron. It lies at the heart of the difference between a sound character and a flawed one, between controlling sense and uncontrolled sensibility.

Aristotle was its first exponent, and Jane Austen's novels are saturated with it. Her characters are repeatedly contrasted in their capacities for emotional response, and the different ways in which their responses can be appropriate or otherwise. Of the three unsatisfactory sisters in the older generation of Mansfield Park, Lady Bertram and Mrs. Price are emotionally languid, and feel little or nothing. Their condition somewhat resembles the state of "insensibility" (anaisthesia), which Aristotle mentions as a deficiency in the sphere of bodily pleasures (1119a5-11). Mrs. Norris, by contrast, is charged with emotional energy, but she is also a malevolent and odious mischief-maker. All three, we learn, have adjusted differently to the circumstances of their lives. Lady Bertram, married to affluence, becomes an indolent lady of leisure, while Mrs. Price, married to a naval oaf, has nine children, and becomes an incompetent, sluttish parent. The energies of Mrs. Norris, who is childless and widowed early, might have been more happily channeled if she had had nine children to raise on a small income (p. 390).

David Gallop, "Jane Austen and the Aristotelian Ethic", Philosophy and Literature 23.1 (1999) 96-109 .

Poem a Day 29

Not Crying

The raindrops fall outside my window
softly into pools in the flower-bed;
my thoughts fall inside, cold and slow,
remembering what you did and said.
The wounds seem healed, but healing is slow
when it's the heart itself that has bled.

It is hard beginning everything anew,
remembering that human hearts can be true.
It was hard working my way through;
but I'll die before I cry over you.

The winds pick up and pull at the walls,
the feelings rise up to tear my calm down;
the rain pours down, and harder falls,
until the world and I might drown.
The wounds seem healed, but soon thought falls
into a sea in which it might drown

It is hard beginning everything anew,
remembering that human hearts can be true.
It was hard working my way through;
but I'll die before I cry over you.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Radio Greats: War of the Worlds (The Mercury Theatre on the Air)

When CBS Radio asked 23-year-old Orson Welles to substitute for a summer for Lux Radio Theatre, Welles, never a stranger to audacity and recklessness, demanded that they hire on his entire theatre troupe, The Mercury Theatre. This was an expensive demand. But CBS Radio took the gamble, and let Welles do whatever he wanted -- and it was the smart thing to do. Originally titled First Person Singular (it was to be introduced by Welles, who would also play the lead), it came to be known as The Mercury Theatre on the Air. One of the distinctive characteristics of it was that, unlike most theatre-style radio programs, The Mercury Theatre on the Air didn't do radio versions of dramatic adaptations. Rather, Welles decided that it was important to adapt directly from the literary work to radio, because, whatever its limitations, radio is actually better for story-telling than theatrical productions are. Combined with the talent of the Mercury Theatre and the creativity (and extremely demanding standards) of Welles himself, the result was what is undeniably the single best series of literary adaptations in the history of radio, and many of the episodes of the series stand out as providing the best radio versions of major novels. Since they are direct adaptations, they are often surprisingly faithful, even when they are taking liberties; but since they use the full resources of radio, they often bring things out that were there in a fresh way. Their adaptation of G. K. Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday (one of Welles's favorite books), for instance, manages to stay close to the book while simultaneously bringing out much more of the nightmare-feeling that Chesterton was going for than you probably could do in your head alone. (Even setting aside the fact that Orson Welles is the perfect Syme.) You can things from the book that the radio adaptation cannot give -- but the radio adaptation can draw things from the book that you're probably not getting if you're not already looking for them.

The series originally had low ratings, although critical praise was very high. This changed with the most famous radio broadcast in the entire history of radio, which aired on October 30, 1938.

The radio play for War of the Worlds was co-written by Howard Koch (rather remarkably, it's only his second most famous script, since he was a co-writer on Casablanca later) and his secretary Anne Froelick (who went on to become a well-established screenwriter until she, like Koch, was blacklisted); Welles and the rest of the troupe certainly contributed. Certain liberties were taken with the story, moving it from England to Grover's Mill, New Jersey, and, most brilliantly of all, it was to be played as if it were a breaking news story. This was likely Welles's own idea, and may have been influenced by radio's second most famous 'radio hoax', Ronald Knox's satirical Broadcasting from the Barricades, which had British citizens, snowed in and unable to get to any other news sources, panicking that London was in the grip of a revolution that had lynched the Government and destroyed the Houses of Parliament. Certainly the style of the two is very similar, although it's difficult to say how much of this is due simply to the fact that they both draw on shared radio conventions.

Exactly what happened when the broadcast aired is difficult to determine -- many later accounts are certainly exaggerated. We don't have much of a clear conception of how the actual listening audience responded. We do know that people started calling each other to try to figure out what was going on. The episode at several points makes its fictional character clear, but if you missed those, you might go for twenty to thirty minutes with what sounded like very realistic breaking-news segments in the midst of a pretty ordinary radio music hour. The radio station started getting calls, and when they tried to tell people that nothing was going on, they were accused of covering things up. A later survey also indicated that some people thought that the Germans were invading. It was 1938, remember. Tensions are high. The world is on edge. And people settled in for a comfortable evening turn from the very popular Chase & Sanborn Hour, which regularly ran over, and thus, missing the introduction, hear nothing but what seems to be news about mysterious invading forces.

It is possible that this was precisely what Welles was going for. It is certainly what he was accused of trying for over the next several months in thousands of editorials and opinion columns as he was attacked for his lying and deceiving; CBS Radio held on in the face of criticism and lawsuits for mental anguish. All the lawsuits were dismissed, although one case was settled out of court when Orson Welles himself insisted that CBS buy a man a pair of shoes -- he claimed he had spent his shoe money trying to get away. Ironically, when H. G. Wells met with Orson Welles a couple of years later to discuss the matter, H. G. Wells was simply baffled about the whole thing, and went so far as to suggest that everybody had just been pretending for Halloween. Also ironically, while lots of copies of the script were made, very few of them survived, because most of them were seized by the police as evidence when there were early questions of whether CBS had acted criminally in misleading people by their false news stories; they were subsequently lost. Only two copies, Koch's and Welles's, are known to have survived.

Of course, in entertainment, any publicity is good publicity, as long as it makes people curious. The uproar guaranteed the series a sponsor -- Campbell's Soup -- and instead of ending when it was originally expected, it continued on in new format.

You can listen to War of the Worlds (and many other excellent literary adaptations) here.

Aesthetics of Disaster

Whether desirable or undesirable, wise or unwise, our human-oriented moral sentiments do dictate that we not derive pleasure (including aesthetic pleasure) from other humans' misery, even if it is caused by nature taking its course. Satish Kumar claims, regarding an earthquake, that "there might be some pain, some suffering, some difficulties for human beings, but if you look at the earth as a whole, all natural phenomena have their place." I would have to claim the contrary: although all natural phenomena have their place, their potential aesthetic value is held in check or is overriden by our moral concern for the pain, suffering, and difficulties that these phenomena cause for human beings.

...As long as we are talking about our aesthetic experience, based upon our all-too-human sentiments, capacities, limitations, and concerns (moral concerns in particular), not everything in nature can or should be appreciated aesthetically.
[Yuriko Saito, "The Aesthetics of Unscenic Nature," The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, vol 56 no 2 (Spring 1998) p. 101. See here for context.]

This argument is several different kinds of baffling. One of the most longstanding topics in philosophical aesthetics is tragedy, going back to Aristotle's first book of the Poetics, and the whole point of tragedy is that it is about "pain, suffering, and difficulties" that are not morally deserved (although they may be morally explicable). Tragedy without misery is a contradiction in terms, but the aesthetic value of tragedy is hardly in dispute; and, what is more, the aesthetic pleasure taken in tragedy has generally been regarded as being itself at least closely allied to moral sensibility, again, going back to Aristotle. Thus if the claim is taken to be descriptive (at least of how our moral concerns normally function in aesthetic valuation), it is obviously contrary to a massive amount of evidence, so much that it must be false. On the other hand, if it is supposed to be prescriptive, then the "all-too-human" aspect of Saito's conclusion becomes rather peculiar: how can it be undesirable and unwise to value things as we ought?

That we can appreciate natural disasters aesthetically thus ends up being an obvious fact about human nature: it is not difficult to find people doing so. And to say that we should not appreciate them in this way runs the risk of saying that we should now appreciate many stories, some of which are recognized masterpieces, this way, contrary to what is a very common view in aesthetics, given that stories often turn on "pain, suffering, and difficulties" for human beings. That at least would require some very serious argument, much more than Saito's vague appeal to "human sentiments, capacities, limitations, and concerns".

Poem a Day 28

Starting Over

New birth is filled with effort, ache,
the flick of wing to stretch and dry,
the pulling-forth from safe cocoon,
the first small steps we softly take,
until the longed-for day we fly,
which takes too long yet comes too soon:
a little work, the tiring grace
of living, leaping into space!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Fortnightly Book, October 27

For this fortnightly book I will be doing a re-read of Bram Stoker's Dracula, first published in 1897, when the Irish-born theater manager was fifty years old. It was his fifth novel, although by that time he had also written a book of fairy tales and a fair amount of nonfiction. One interesting tidbit about the book: when the manuscript for it, long thought to be lost, was discovered in the 1980s, the title on it was "The Un-Dead"; the famous title, which it is difficult to imagine it without today, seems to have been placed on it when it was ready to be printed.

The Heritage Press edition of Dracula that I have has a three-piece binding with black and blood red; the typesetting is in Monotype Perpetua, and there are thirty-two wood-engravings by Felix Hoffmann.

Since I've been on a radio kick, I will also (assuming I have time) re-listen to the version of Dracula put on by The Mercury Theatre on the Air. It is not their most famous episode -- that will be for my next Radio Greats post -- but it does have the distinction of being their very first, airing on July 11, 1938.

And just because it's worth reminding ourselves that the man thought about more than monsters (and it is part of the reason why Stoker's Dracula manages to be richer in symbolism and human appeal than almost any of its imitators), here's a poem by Bram Stoker:

The One Thing Needful
by Bram Stoker

In Martha's house the weary Master lay,
Spent with his faring through the burning day.
The busy hostess bustled through the room
On household cares intent, and at His feet
The gentle Mary took her wonted seat.
Soft came His words in music through the gloom.

Cumbered about much serving Martha wrought--
Her sister listening as the Master taught--
Till something fretful an appeal she made:
"Doth it not matter that on me doth fall
The burden; Mary helpeth not at all?
Master, command her that she give me aid."

"Ah, Martha, Martha! Thou are full of care,
And many things thy needless trouble share."
Thus with the love that chides the Master spake:
"One thing alone is needful. That good part
Hath Mary chosen from her loving heart;
And that part from her shall I never take."


One thing alone we lack. Our souls, indeed,
Have fiercer hunger than the body's need.
Ah, happy they that look in loving eyes.
The harsh world round them fades. The Master's Voice
In sweetest music bids their souls rejoice
And wakes an echo there that never dies.

Poem a Day 27

Cup of Tea

You are lovely, cup of tea,
steaming, scenting morning air,
born of leaf and water free,
capturing all ache and care;

You are splendid, morning cup,
filling sense and sparking mind;
feeling hope, I fill you up:
morning seems more calm and kind.

In the morning, at the sunrise,
all the world is made more fair,
in the cup there is a fair prize --
take it if your heart can dare.