Saturday, March 14, 2015

Anton Chekhov, Two Plays


Opening Passage of The Cherry Orchard:

A room which has always been called the nursery. One of the doors leads into ANYA's room. Dawn, sun rises during the scene. May, the cherry trees in flower, but it is cold in the garden with the frost of early morning. Windows closed.

Enter DUNYASHA with a candle and LOPAHIN with a book in his hand.

Opening Passage of Three Sisters:

In the house of the PROZOROVS. A drawing-room with columns beyond which a large room is visible. Mid-day; it is bright and sunny. The table in the farther room is being laid for lunch.

OLGA, in the dark blue uniform of a high-school teacher, is correcting exercise books, at times standing still and thin walking up and down; MASHA, in a black dress, with her hat on her knee, is reading a book; IRINA, in a white dress, is standing plunged in thought.

Summary: The Cherry Orchard is a strange play; it acts like a comedy without being entirely convincing about its comic commitment. The emancipation of Russian serfs has unsettled the economy and society of Russia. People like Lyubov Andreievna Ranevskaya and Boris Borisovich Simeonov-Pishchik, Russian aristocrats, are on the verge of losing their estates, and, while desperate to save them, lack any of the background required for doing so; reformers are spreading throughout Czarist Russia; servants and tradesmen are rising in the world; young people are often breaking with the old ways. The change is hard. We begin in May and end in October, in the course of which the cherry orchard is sold and its razing begun. The cherry orchard itself is a sort of living symbol of the aristocracy, poignant with nostalgia, an opportunity for a new beginning, a treasure, an obstacle. The play is Russia in a nutshell. I suppose that in some sense that explains its ambiguous character as a comedy.

The three sisters of Three Sisters are Olga, Masha, and Irina. Olya is 28 and on her way to being an old maid; Masha is 25 and married and on her way to being an adulteress; Irina, at age 20, is still as much girl as woman and is trying to set out on a way to begin with. The difficulty for each sister is that life seems to have a path set out for her in which she has little interest: Olga will be raised from teacher to headmistress, a job she does not really want; Masha is tired of her husband and in love with another man, and yet eventually will have nowhere else to go but to her husband; Irina is being courted by the Baron Tuzenbach, whom she respects but does not love. There are also a number of ironies; Masha's husband, Fyodor Ilyich Kuligin, is clearly a better match for Olga, who would certainly have married him if he had asked her, as he had considered doing; Masha's impatience with her husband seems justified at first, but her affair makes more clear his real quality; Irina decides to go with the Baron and find that it has suddenly become impossible. The whole play could be summed up in the lines of the sisters as the play comes to a close: "We've got to live" (Masha); "we have got to work" (Irina); "If we only knew" (Olga).

I confess that I found Chekhov somewhat harder going than I expected, particularly since his scenes are very crisp and clear; so much of what goes on is not on the page, and despite the fact that each story has a trajectory when one looks at it as a whole, one that covers a drastic set of changes, as one reads through it rarely seems to be moving much. It all reminds me a bit of a motion comic.

Favorite Passage:

PISHTCHIK. Wait a bit...I'm hot...a most extraordinary occurrence! Some Englishmen came along and found in my land some sort of white clay. (To LYUBOV ANDREYEVNA) And 400 for you...most lovely...wonderful (gives money). The rest later (sips water). A young man in the train was telling me just now that a great philosopher advises jumping off a house-top. "Jump!" says he; "the whole gist of the problem lies in that." (Wonderingly) Fancy that now! Water, please!

Recommendation: I wasn't hugely impressed, but this may well be simply that the works in question just didn't come alive on a first reading.

Isaac of Nineveh for Lent XXII

Prayer is the mortification of the will's motions pertaining to the life of the flesh. For a man who prays correctly is the equal of a man who is dead to the world. And the meaning of 'to deny oneself' is this: courageously to persevere in prayer.

Homily 66 (p. 470).

Friday, March 13, 2015

Isaac of Nineveh for Lent XXI

When temptation overtakes the iniquitous man, he has no confidence wherewith to call upon God, nor to expect salvation from Him, since in the days of his ease he stood aloof from God's will. Before the war begins, seek after your ally; before you fall ill, seek out your physician; and before grievous things come upon you, pray, and in the time of your tribulations you will find Him, and he will hearken to you. Before you stumble, call out and make supplication; and before you make a vow, have read what things you promise, for they are your provisions afterwards. The ark of Noah was built in the time of peace, and its timbers were planted by him a hundred years before hand. In the time of wrath the iniquitous perished, but the ark became the shelter for the righteous man.

Homily 5.

Links of Note

For a number of reasons, my computer access over the next week will be sporadic.

* Thomas Van discusses the Greek Apologists

* Roger Pearse discusses the legend of St. Nicholas hitting Arius. He also has some discussion of the Stoic philosopher, Musonius Rufus.

* Bayes' Theorem with Lego at "Count Bayesie"

* Ashok Karra on Plato's Cleitophon. In my whirlwind tour of the Platonic Corpus, I talked about this dialogue last August.

* Whewell's Gazette #38

* Julie Canlis, Pilgrimage, Geography, and Mischievous Theology

* Nora Bartlett on pauses in Jane Austen's novels

* Philosopher's Carnival #172 and Philosopher's Carnival #173

* Project Vox is a new resource for the study of philosophers outside the normal canon.

* Matthew Priselac, Locke: Knowledge of the External World, at the IEP

* Understanding Aristotle's Account of the Relation of the Household to the State, Part I and Part II

* Ed Feser on Nyaya arguments for a First Cause

* A recent investigation discovered that over 2500 educators in American schools had teaching credentials revoked, denied, surrendered or sanctioned from 2001 through 2005 following allegations of sexual misconduct.

* Medieval Otaku on C. S. Lewis's The Discarded Image

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Music on My Mind

Yuki Kajiura (with FictionJunction), "My Long Forgotten Cloistered Sleep".

Baber Interview

An interesting interview with the philosopher H. E. Baber, who is a (currently non-practicing) Episcopalian:

Because I had no childhood religion I was never in the position of others who have had to choose between rejecting their pre-philosophical religious beliefs in favor of their current philosophically informed views, keeping them in separate compartments, or somehow reconciling them. All the religion I had when I joined the Church I got from college classes, and from my reading.

When I joined the Church I was put off by its way of ‘engaging with religion’. Faculty at school, none of them religious believers, treated theological doctrines as philosophical claims, which even if false, were worth serious consideration. At church, the curate who taught my adult Confirmation Class reinterpreted them as edifying sentimentalities or dismissed them. In philosophy class, we considered the possibility of post-mortem survival, in church, the curate glossed the article on the resurrection of the dead in the Creed as ‘not pie in the sky when we die, but life in depth and fullness here and now’.

Isaac of Nineveh for Lent XX

Humility, even without works, gains forgiveness for many offenses; but without her, works are of no profit to us, and rather prepare for us great evils. Therefore, through humility, as I said, find forgiveness for your iniquitous deeds.

Homily 69 (p. 484).

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

With Thistles Growing Everywhere

The Thistle
(Dedicated to Thomas Somerville)
by John Alexander Joyce

Let England boast of ivy green,
Of beef and gold and gristle;
But still my soul shall always lean
To Scotland and its thistle.

Old Ireland may its shamrock praise,
Romantic airs still whistle;
Yet give me back my childhood days—
Dear Scotland and its thistle.

Gay France may boast the lily white,
Its slopes with vines may bristle,
Yet all its joys both day and night
Can't vie with Scotland's thistle.

Columbia, my adopted land,
Sweet liberty, thy story;
To thee I freely give my hand,
My heart for Scotland's glory.

The land of Wallace, Bruce, and Burns,
Refreshed by Highland misle,
To thee my throbbing heart still turns,
My Scotland and its thistle.

'Tis there the bonny Doon and Ayr
Reflect the evening shadow,
With thistles growing everywhere
'Mid mountain, marsh, and meadow.

John Alexander Joyce (1842-1915) himself was Irish by birth, although he spent much of his life as a lawyer in the United States. I don't know who the Thomas Somerville was to whom the poem was dedicated, but Somerville has been a Scottish name since the twelfth century. Joyce wrote an autobiography. I've only glanced over it, but it's a pretty full life: he was a soldier in the U. S. Civil War, went all over the United States, met Brigham Young, was put on trial for defrauding the revenue laws (as a scapegoat, he claims), and was pardoned by Rutherford B. Hayes.

Isaac of Nineveh for Lent XIX

God has no need of anything. But He is gladdened whenever He sees a man comforting His image and honoring it for His sake.

Homily 5. 'His image', of course, is a human being.

Lives, and Songs, and Prayers Half Done

by Anna Jane Granniss

A broken song — It had dropped apart
Just as it left the singer's heart,
And was never whispered upon the air,
Only breathed into the vague "Somewhere".

A broken prayer — Only half said
By a tired child at his trundle bed;
While asking Jesus his soul to keep,
With parted lips, he fell fast asleep.

A broken life — Hardly half told
When it dropped the burden it could not hold —
Of these lives, and songs, and prayers half done,
God gathers the fragments every one.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Isaac of Nineveh for Lent XVIII

But why should we count up the many things that prove the holy angels' love for us, and their special care for the righteous? For just as big brothers do for their little ones, so do they look after us. All these things come to pass so as to assure every man how 'nigh the Lord is unto all that call upon Him in truth,' and how much provision He manifests toward those who have devoted themselves to pleasing Him, and who follow Him with pure hearts.

Homily 5 (p. 159).

Monday, March 09, 2015

Parvus Catechismus Catholicorum

This post is partly just for my own benefit, although others might find it of some use. I help out with a confirmation class on Wednesday nights; a person more poorly suited to relating with teenagers than myself I can hardly imagine, but I seem to have one advantage over a great many people, namely, that I'm actually willing to help at it if help is needed. If that sounds a bit acidic, it is; if there's anything that I've learned from this and other cases in which I've helped out with a ministry, it is that Catholics are much better at demanding that things be done than they are at helping to get them done. In any case, we've had some difficulty with the fact that we have a very diverse parish and we can't assume anything about what the students actually know about Christianity. So ever since we realized this, we've had to go back to basics: Bible stories, Ten Commandments, and the like. And in the same spirit, I dug up a translation of St. Peter Canisius's old catechism for children, the Parvus Catechismus. The translation is nicely accurate, but the catechism was written for the catechesis of nine- to fourteen-year-olds, and the translation choices are not always what I would have chosen for handing over to a typical child of this age. So I really need to go back to the Latin original, and due to the wonders of the Internet, it turns out there's a handy one available in the Latin with a facing German translation, at the Internet Archive. Thus I put it here so I can easily find it again.

Isaac of Nineveh for Lent XVII

Whenever you wish to make a beginning in some good work, first prepare yourself for the temptations that will come upon you, and do not doubt the truth. For it is the enemy's custom, whenever he sees a man beginning a good mode of life with fervent faith, to confront him with diverse and fearful temptations, so that he should be afraid, his good intention should be chilled, and he should lack the fervor to undertake that God-pleasing work.

Homily 5 (pp. 155-156).

Filial Obligations

There is a good article at the IEP by Brynn Welch on filial obligations. Welch identifies several theories of filial obligation: that it arises from debt to our parents, from friendship with our parents, from gratitude to our parents, from reciprocity with regard to the goods specific to the parent-child relationship, from gratitude over such specific goods. One thing that I think would have strengthened the discussion is the recognition that perhaps we have lots of different kinds of filial obligations.

Take Aquinas, for instance. Aquinas thinks that children owe their parents a debt. (It is not what Aquinas calls a legal debt, which is what is assumed in what Welch calls Debt Theory, but what he calls a moral debt, which is a looser term.) But what we owe them are things like gratitude and respect. Aquinas is also an Aristotelian, though, and thus he thinks that parents and children are friends (one of Aristotle's paradigmatic examples of friendship is friendship between mother and child). And I doubt Aquinas is really unique here; the categories are too broad here, and the assumption that all our filial obligations are of only one type, required by the critical examinations of each theory, seems very controvertible.

Indeed, the parent-child relationship itself seems to be more of a family of relationships than a single relationship: a parent gives a child life, educates the child, plays with the child, is the confidant of the child, provides goods for the child, plans for the child, and so forth. In each case the parent has the role of parent and the child has the role of child, but the ways the two relate are very different. Each way of relating, though, seems to raise different questions with regard to obligation.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Two Poem Drafts

Third Week of Lent

A burning bush in desert grows,
infused with bright auroral gold;
it burns the world with heaven's grace,
reflecting truth from God's own face,
yet does not burn from ceaseless fire.

The ash is falling from the clouds,
the flame is burning bright and clear,
and though I be but mortal clay,
I hope like glimmer sparking day
to rise myself like glowing dawn.


Undine undying, undo your charm,
untie the bonds that may work us harm;
in depths all unending, on deep dreaming sand,
deny us not, undine, the help of your hand.