Saturday, May 30, 2015

La Pucelle

Today is the feast of Jeanne D'Arc, the Maid of Orleans, one of my favorite saints.

She was truthful when lying was the common speech of men; she was honest when honesty was become a lost virtue; she was a keeper of promises when the keeping of a promise was expected of no one; she gave her great mind to great thoughts and great purposes when other great minds wasted themselves upon pretty fancies or upon poor ambitions; she was modest, and fine, and delicate when to be loud and coarse might be said to be universal; she was full of pity when a merciless cruelty was the rule; she was steadfast when stability was unknown, and honorable in an age which had forgotten what honor was; she was a rock of convictions in a time when men believed in nothing and scoffed at all things; she was unfailingly true in an age that was false to the core; she maintained her personal dignity unimpaired in an age of fawnings and servilities; she was of a dauntless courage when hope and courage had perished in the hearts of her nation; she was spotlessly pure in mind and body when society in the highest places was foul in both—she was all these things in an age when crime was the common business of lords and princes, and when the highest personages in Christendom were able to astonish even that infamous era and make it stand aghast at the spectacle of their atrocious lives black with unimaginable treacheries, butcheries, and beastialities.

-- Mark Twain, Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc.

Two in One

As said above while considering precepts, precepts have the same role in law as propositions in speculative sciences. In these latter, conclusions are virtually contained in the first principles; thus who completely knows the principles according to their whole power does not need the conclusions to be separately proposed. But because not all who know the principles are wholly able consider whatever is virtually contained in the principles, it is necessary for their sake that conclusions of science should should be drawn from their principles. But in practical things, in which precepts of law direct us, the end has the character of a principle, as said above. But love for God is the end to which love of neighbor is ordered. And so it it is fitting for us not only to be given a precept of the love of God, but also of love of neighbor, on account of the less competent, who do not easily consider that one of these precepts is contained in the other.

Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae 2-2.44.2 (my translation).

Friday, May 29, 2015

The Analects, Book I

The Lun yu, or Analects, as the work is usually known in the West, has been seen in many ways. It reads a great deal like an anecdotal historiography, corresponding vaguely to something like Diogenes Laertius's Lives of the Philosophers. Much of its early popularity seems to have been based on taking it to be a kind of occasional commentary on the themes and ideas of the great Chinese Classics. Eventually it came to be the central of the Four Books that constitute the heart of the scholarship-tradition we in the West usually call Confucianism, an object of study and commentary in its own right. And, of course, it has come to be a primary element in China's vast and impressive contribution to civilization throughout the world.

The Analects as it currently exists is a hybrid work and not the work of a single hand. In the Han dynasty it seems to have been widely known that there were at least two different versions of the work, associated with the states of Lu and Qi respectively; the Qi version seems to have had a couple more books, but the books of the Lu version seem to have contained material not in the Qi version. These two versions were put together by the scholar Zhang Yu, probably to facilitate his work as tutor to the Imperial family; Zhang Yu used the Lu version as the primary base but added other material from the Qi version. This is the received and preserved text of the Analects that we have today. The Analects are not, however, the only source of old stories about, and sayings attributed to, Confucius, although most scholars seem to agree that the Analects is the most credibly authentic source, with roots going back at least to his student's students.

All of this raises the question of how best to read the work. I think the best way, at least for a crude preliminary reading, is simply to place the emphasis on Master Kong as teacher. It's a teaching book built on a teacher's practice, preserved through the ages by teachers. This is a reason why its apparent disorder does not in any way hamper its qualities; it's a collection of things to make you think, or, perhaps more accurately, to reflect and study. It may well be more; but that seems a good place to start.

The translation I'll be using is Raymond Dawson's. In his introductory notes he points out that, despite the fact that our temptation is to read the whole work with ponderous solemnity, many of the passages seem to be humorous, and were probably preserved in part because of the wit. Catching humor through translations is tricky, but it's worth trying, since humor is part of teaching, and some of Master Kong's comments are quite funny:

Ji Wen Zi thought three times before acting. When the Master heard of this, he said, 'Twice will do.' (5.20)

And that joke seems a good motto for starting out in any enterprise.

Book I

Book I begins and ends with a comment about how it is important not to worry about whether others appreciate you; the truly noble are not resentful of the failures of others to recognize their qualities (1.1) and the real worry is not whether your qualities are being recognized but whether you are recognizing the qualities of others (1.16). In 1.1 this is linked to the two important ideas of learning and friendship. Proper learning is in great measure about keeping one's priorities straight. Appearances and mere verbal cleverness distort our growth (1.3). Master You and Master Zeng, two other teachers we meet in Book I (and likely important people in the early schools in which the sayings of Confucius were transmitted), show this as well, with Master You emphasizing that the noble will start with the root (1.2) and Master Zeng giving us his daily examination of character (1.4): Am I loyal in dealing with others? Am I trustworthy in dealing with friends? Do I practice what has been handed down to me?

To learn with the right priorities is to develop ren, humanity towards others. This begins with our duties to our parents and siblings (1.2; 1.6); Master Zeng notes that the ramifications of this putting family first are much wider than ourselves (1.9). If someone builds on this and acts well toward others, Zixia, a student of Confucius, remarks, then that person has some right be called learned even if he is completely uneducated (1.7). Loyalty (zhong) and sincerity (xin) are the matters of fundamental importance (1.8, 1.13). The standards can be quite high (1.11; 1.12), and they require positive and not merely negative action (1.15). All of this is a matter of learning, though, so much so that the noble may be summed up in a single phrase: "fond of learning" (1.14).

A Poem Re-Draft

A Meditation on Reading the Analects

Princely authority, wind-like;
petty authority, grass-like:
wind blows, grass bends.

Self ungoverned,
others ungoverned:
if not here, then not there.

Prince as prince,
minister, minister:
that is government.

Untiringly to remember,
unwaveringly to practice:
that is government.

Promoting the right,
subordinating the crooked:
that is government.

Accepting wise counsel,
exalting good character:
that is government.

Cherishing virtue,
loving law:
that is government.

Blessing the near,
luring the far:
that is government.

Not hasty, not niggling,
pardoning with ease:
that is government.

The unturning star
turning all stars:
that is government.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Sui Juris Churches XVI: The Hungarian Greek Catholic Church

(on sui juris churches in general)

Liturgical Family: Byzantine

Primary Liturgical Language: Hungarian

Juridical Status: Metropolitan

Approximate Population: A bit over 300,000.

Brief History: Hungary has historically been the crossroads of East and West, so it is unsurprising that the Byzantine Rite has usually had a place despite the general prevalence of the Latin Rite. There was actually an early presence of the Byzantine Rite in the area we now call Hungary, but it kept getting washed away by in-sweeping invasions, with the Tartar invasion being particularly devastating. In the early modern period, however, something more stable and permanent began to develop as Ruthenians and Slovaks of the Byzantine Rite moved into eastern Hungary as refuge from various Turkish invasions. In the seventeenth century, the Ruthenian Catholic Church had begun to develop, and the conditions in the Habsburg empire made it feasible for them to keep their Rite as they moved in and became Catholic. (This is visible in the name of the Church, 'Greek Catholic' being the name that was given under the Habsburgs to Byzantine Rite Catholics of whatever kind.) In addition, Protestants in the area sometimes preferred to convert to Byzantine Rite rather than Latin Rite Catholicism. The numbers therefore began to grow.

As they grew, however, there also developed an active push for the use of the Hungarian language in the liturgy. Indeed, in many places Byzantine Rite Catholics simply began doing the liturgy in Hungarian without the proper approval for it, and the use of Hungarian expanded, despite considerable resistance on the part of Church authorities, throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. After repeated petitions over the decades, Pius X in 1912 erected the Eparchy of Hajdúdorog; but he explicitly forbade the use of Hungarian in the liturgy itself, requiring them to change over entirely to Greek within three years. For whatever reason, this prohibition was never put into effect -- probably the locals simply dragged their feet, and soon enough there was a World War going on and it would hardly have been a major priority any more.

World War I changed the national boundaries, and thus led to some reorganization of the eparchies in the region. One result was that almost half the parishes of the Eparchy of Hajdúdorog were cut off from the other half; another was that a fair part of the Eparchy of Prešov and a small part of the Eparchy of Mukacheve were cut off from their eparchies; these latter were reorganized as the Exarchate of Miskolc. Unlike the Eparchy of Hajdúdorog, which technically used a Greek liturgy but in reality had a Hungarian one, the Exarchate of Miskolc primarily consisted of churches whose liturgies were based on Church Slavonic. As they acculturated to the new Hungarian nation and interacted with the Eparchy of Hajdúdorog, however, they also began to Hungarianize their liturgy. The redrawing of national boundaries also put Hungarian Greek Catholics into a financial crisis, as many of their institutions were now in countries to which they had little access. Recovery from this sudden impoverishment was very slow.

After World War II, Hungary was taken over by Communists. The Communist regime in Hungary was fairly harsh for Catholics, but unlike most Communist countries, the Hungarian Communist regime did not outlaw the Greek Catholic churches. The Communists constantly interfered, breaking up monasteries and convents, restricting the means of catechesis, and the like, but the churches were not forced underground the way they usually were under Communist rule. Part of the reason for this seems to have been that in Hungary Moscow could not have its preferred option of assimilating everything into a state-dominated Orthodox Church; the Orthodox in Hungary were too scattered and diverse, and the Greek Catholic was unusually large and organized. In addition, getting Greek Catholic clergy who would be willing to switch to a state-backed Orthodox church was not a small task; the clergy as a whole did not have a strong interest in Orthodoxy, despite their Byzantine culture, and it seems to have been thought that active dissolution of the Greek Catholic Church would simply result in the expansion of Latin Rite Catholicism, which from the Communist point of view was not an improvement. It's also possible that by this point the Soviets were less confident in their usual strategy; pushed underground, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church had by this point just become even more of a problem for the Communist regime. In 1980 the Eparchy of Hajdúdorog was expanded to include the whole of Hungary, and thus all Greek Catholics within it.

The fall of Communism in Hungary led to an expansion of opportunities for the Hungarian Greek Catholic Church. Institutions began to develop and proliferate. Religious orders returned. In 2015, Francis raised the Eparchy of Hajdúdorog to an Archeparchy, with its seat at Debrecen, and at the same time raised the Exarchate of Miskolc to an eparchy and added another eparchy, Nyíregyháza.

Notable Monuments: The Monastery of Our Lady of Máriapócs is a highly regarded pilgrimage site; it houses a copy of one of the oldest and most important icons of the Hungarian Greek Catholic Church, the Weeping Madonna. (Despite being a copy of the original, which is now in Vienna, it too was a weeping icon.) There are also a great many pilgrimage routes running through Hungary, with some of the sites visited being Greek Catholic.

Notable Religious Institutes: As with most churches that have been Ruthenian at one time or another, the Basilians are quite important, although since they vanished during Communist rule, their return is relatively recent.

Extent of Official Jurisdiction: The Archeparchy of Hajdúdorog and two suffragan eparchies, all in Hungary.

Online Sources and Resources:

Thursday Vice: Cruelty

The major early text giving a handle on the vice of cruelty, or crudelitas, is Seneca's De Clementia. Clemency is there understood in terms of restraint in the imposing of penalties, and cruelty is what opposes this. Thus Seneca gives several notable descriptions of cruelty. Many of these are concerned with the consequences following from cruelty, particularly in political contexts, but some of them give us a better sense of what he has in mind by the term:

Cruelty is an evil thing befitting least of all a man, and is unworthy of his spirit that is so kindly; for one to take delight in blood and wounds and, throwing off the man, to change into a creature of the woods, is the madness of a wild beast. For what difference does it make, I beg of you, Alexander, whether you throw Lysimachus to a lion, or yourself tear lion to pieces with your teeth? That lion's maw is yours, and yours its savagery.

Thus we see here a linking of cruelty and beastliness; he not long after goes on to note that the most terrible form of insanity is when cruelty is so far advanced that killing people becomes delightful. He does not seem, however, to regard the two as exactly the same, although the precise boundary between the two is not clearly drawn.

He will also consider the nature of the vice itself, arguing that it consists in "harshness of mind in exacting punishment" and is an "inclination of the mind toward the side of harshness [atrocitas]".

When Aquinas considers the vice (2-2.159), he will be heavily influenced by Seneca's account, although he will as usual have others in view, as well. Linking crudelitas (cruelty) with cruditas (rawness), he suggests that the primary experiential marker, so to speak, of cruelty, is a kind of bitterness opposed to the sweetness of mercy and clemency. Since Aquinas takes there to be a distinction between mercy (misericordia) and clemency (clementia), with mercy being more concerned with positive action and clemency more with restraint from negative action, he clarifies that cruelty is more properly opposed to clemency, which is a potential part of temperance. He notes, though, that in practice we tend to conflate mercilessness (immisericordia) and cruelty due to the similarities in the vices.

Aquinas will sharply distinguish cruelty from savagery (saevitia) and brutishness (feritate). They are motivated by delight in suffering, and thus the motivation is not particularly rational; they are therefore forms of beastliness (bestialitas), which is a sort of removal of reason from action. But, following Seneca, he takes cruelty to be rational by its very nature; it is based on the notion of penalizing someone, and gets its viciousness from being a punitive excess. It therefore is not a matter of beastliness but wickedness/malice (malitia).

Discussions of cruelty in the modern age will end to drop all of these distinctions again; most often, probably, by 'cruelty' is meant what Aquinas would call 'saevitia' or savagery, although it is often treated as what Aquinas would call 'immisericordia'. Thus it is generally less clear in modern discussions whether we are dealing with the kinds of actions that are motivated rationally or those that are motivated nonrationally, and whether we are concerned with something opposed to restraint of bad action or something directly opposed to positive good action. This is somewhat ironic, since the lack of clarity has been accompanied by a massive expansion in the use of the term. In ancient and medieval periods it comes up, particularly in the discussion of tyranny, but it is a very secondary matter. In the modern age, however, it has arguably become a central moral concept. This was due, I believe, to the development of movements in the nineteenth century to ameliorate the treatment of animals; thus the 'Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals'.

Perhaps the single best modern discussion of cruelty, however, is Philip Hallie's "From Cruelty to Goodness". The kinds of cruelties he has in mind are those inflicted in the institution of slavery or in the Holocaust. This kind of cruelty involves the attempt to degrade its victims and destroy their dignity as human beings. Hallie argues that cruelty in this sense is opposed not primarily to kindness or to liberation but to hospitality.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Principles of Providence

"Do nothing without a sufficient reason:" such is the fundamental Law of Wisdom, the law which determines the end as well as the mode of all wise action.

This first law, when applied to the mode of action, produces a second, which we have called the Law of the Least Means.

This second law requires a principle of application; and we found that the principle of its application to the government of contingent beings may be thus expressed: "Govern these beings in such a manner that they may produce by their own aptitudes all the good which they can possibly yield."

The fecundity of this principle revealed itself to us when we passed on to consider it in the generation of sundry other laws which preside over the government of the universe, namely: the law of the Non-Intervention of God in nature without necessity; that of His Intervention when necessary; that of Excluded Superfluity; that of the Unity and Harmony of the Universe; that of the Gradation of Beings; the laws of Variety, of Excluded Equality, of the Unity of God's Action, of the Manifestation of God in Time, and of His Manifestation in Eternity, wherein all passing events become consistent and necessary, the means of the Divine Glory, the ultimate end of creation.

Antonio Rosmini, Theodicy, vol. 2, pp. 186-187.

Classification-Based Validity

Perhaps the most commonly used account of validity is modal; it is the idea that an argument is valid when, its premises being true, the conclusion cannot be false. This account of validity makes the following argument valid:

Socrates is human;
therefore Socrates is an animal.

However, it would often be said that this is not valid in terms of its form; it is not formally valid but materially valid. Since anything formally valid that does not equivocate would certainly have also to be materially valid, the question arises as to what the principle is identifying an argument as formally valid. The usual principle suggested is some variant of Buridan's idea that it has to hold for all terms, keeping the form common to all of them the same. Thus people would usually say that the above argument is not formally valid because it would not be invariant under a consistent but arbitrary substitution of terms:

New Orleans is a city;
therefore New Orleans is a river.

But I'm not sure we should let this pass so easily. For one thing, 'keeping the form the same' has to apply to the actual logical principles used in drawing the conclusion, and it seems clear enough that the New Orleans argument does not use the same logical principles to draw its conclusion that the Socrates argument does. The conclusion in the Socrates argument 'works' because it simply moves the predicate from specific to general; that's what pretty much anyone making the argument would be doing. But this is not involved at all in the New Orleans argument.

One could perhaps argue that this is somehow not part of the argument's form, but it's difficult to see how it wouldn't be. It certainly would be if I did something like this:

Socrates is an animal that is rational;
therefore Socrates is an animal.

But there's not any obvious way in which this is different from the other. Logical terms are not words but meanings, so if 'human' includes 'animal' as part of its definition, the movement from 'human' to 'animal' should be as formal as the movement from 'animal that is rational' to 'animal', if they both proceed on the same principles, which they appear to do.

One could perhaps argue that the original is an enthymeme:

Socrates is human;
(everything human is an animal);
therefore Socrates is an animal.

This is certainly formally valid. But it's unclear that the implicit premise actually adds anything that is not already in the first premise, for exactly the reason just noted.

If one took each logical term to be a 'slot', so to speak, in a classification system, then an argument's form relates these 'slots' to each other; but then one would expect species-to-genus inference to be as formal as subalternation, universal instantiation, or inference involving the dictum de omni et nullo.

It has been noted by others that, while we can fairly easily handle the notion of logical form in particular logical systems, we don't have any general account of logical form. This is a related issue, I think, since there appears to be no useful account, applicable to the full range of arguments people would want to consider formally valid, that also obviously rules out the possibility that the classification of the terms can be part of the formal structure of an argument.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Links and Linkabilia

Due to a busy term, some of these are quite late; but still possibly of interest.

* Yogi Berra turned 90.

* Communication between bird species (and even some other animals, like squirrels) seems more extensive than had previously been thought.

* A humorous look at fake degree programs by way of their use of stock photos.

* Teresa Blankmeyer Burke on doing philosophy in American sign language.

* Ed Feser on C. S. Lewis on Transposition

* Larry Hurtado on the question of how far Paul was influenced by Stoicism

* Rav Elchanan Samet on rabbinical interpretations of the command not to put a stumblingblock in front of the blind.

* I'm way late on this, but apparently the official English translation of the Ukrainian Catholic Catechism is supposed to come out this year. I put this here in part to remind myself to keep an eye out for it.

* Greg Sadler on Anselm on divine power and greatness

* John Farrell discusses the decline of the priest-scientist

* A Clerk of Oxford discusses a Pentecost sermon by the tenth-century Saxon Aelfric.

* A periodic table of firework colors

* John Norton on Einstein's Zurich notebook (and scientific creativity)

* Catholicism in space

* Marina Folescu on Thomas Reid's philosophy of mind at the IEP

* Charles C. Petersen on the great Byzantine military strategy handbook, the Strategikon.

Hanique, Part IV

A silence hung between us, and I narrowed my eyes. "What kind of game do you think you are playing here?" I asked.

"No games, Dr. Montgomery," he replied.

"Stop calling me Dr. Montgomery," I said; "that's not my name."

"As you wish," he said. "But it is important that you take all three pills -- not just the white, but also the red and yellow. Can we do that?" His arid face seemed sinister in the light from the window behind his desk, and I wondered what they would do to me if I refused.

"Yes," I said finally and cautiously.

"Good," he said with a brisk smile. He gestured at the professor of mathematics and the professor of biology. "Please take Dr. Montgomery back to his room."

They practically dragged me out of the chair and down the hell. At the door to my office there was some fumbling as the professor of mathematics had to try more than one key to open it. They pushed me inside and locked the door behind me, leaving me, no doubt, to think myself a patient in a madhouse.

But they made a mistake. As they dragged me from the chair in the Dean's office, I caught a good, clear glimpse of the quad outside the Dean's window, and the black helicopter in it. Clearly whoever it was that had stolen the copy of Vision of Two Souls by Catharine of Hanique had also suborned the Dean. The Dean, in turn, being a man of absolutely no imagination, had invented this nonsensical story of the pills.

Also, I had palmed the professor of biology's keys while the professor of mathematics was fumbling around with the door.

I sat down a moment, wondering how best to proceed. My head was aching a bit and I looked for an aspirin, but I could find none in the room and my pocket turned up nothing but some red and yellow buttons that had fallen off my shirt a few days before, which I had forgotten to sew back on. I just threw them in the trash; no time for them now.

Clearly the thing to do is to set out and find this mysterious Hanique and discover what happened to the missing book. It will be dangerous, no doubt; one can hardly expect people who fly around in black helicopters stealing books and bribing Deans to be safe. But that is a true academic life, to purse truth at all costs and regardless of the obstacles. And when I actually retrieve the book and lay bare the mystery! It will vindicate my life's research.

But it is, again, dangerous, so I realized that I needed to leave some record, so that the Dean and his goons in the biology and mathematics departments cannot have the last word. This, my dear reader, is the manuscript you have in hand; I had already started writing it, so it was suitable for leaving an exact and objective record of events as they have happened to me. I will hide it, I think, by the statue of St. Catharine of Bologna. If you read this, I hope that I will have already returned from Hanique with the fruits of my research! But if not, at least someone else knows of the adventure I have had, and perhaps can carry on the pursuit, so that one day the human race may know the mystery of St. Catherine of Boulagnon, which has come to be tied so strangely to the mystery of Hanique.

Sui Juris Churches XV: The Eritrean Catholic Church

(on sui juris churches in general)

Liturgical Family: Alexandrian

Primary Liturgical Language: Ge'ez

Juridical Status: Metropolitan

Approximate Population (to Nearest 10,000): 160,000

Brief History: The relationship of Eritrean Christianity to Ethiopian Christianity has always been complicated by the difficult relations between Eritrea and Ethiopia. Eritrea was converted to Christianity along with Ethiopia as part of the Kingdom of Aksum, but as Aksum's might waned, the kingdom of Medri Bahri rose; it was a Christian kingdom, and fought off the Adal Sultanate, but it was often in conflict with the Abyssinian Kingdom from which modern-day Ethiopia descends. In 1517 it temporarily became part of the Ottoman Empire; the Ottomans would eventually be driven out, but still remained a major influence until the coming of the Italians at the end of the nineteenth century. This Italian period, which lasted until the British threw the Italians out in 1941, saw the arrival of many Catholic missionaries. In 1930 an Ordinariate was established for Catholics in Eritrea, but it was a Latin Rite Ordinariate. In 1951, the British left, and the Ordinariate for Eritrea was abolished, replaced by an exarchate that was attached to the Ethiopian Catholic Church. In 1959 a separate Latin Rite Vicariate was established for Latin Rite Eritreans, and in 1961, Eritrea's status was raised from an exarchate to an eparchy.

Despite a strong desire for independence, the country was federated with Ethiopia under pressure from the United Nations; Emperor Haile Selassie would then forcibly annex the country in 1962. This led to a decades-long war until Eritrea finally established independence in 1993. In response to the independence, John Paul II reorganized the eparchial structure of the country and abolished the Latin Vicariate (which was, in any case, caring for a dwindling population), thus putting all Latin Rite Catholics under the authority of the Ethiopian Catholic bishops of Eritrea, making the nation the only nation in the world in which all Catholics regardless of rite are under the authority of Eastern Catholic bishops. In 2015, Francis detached the Eritrean eparchies from the Ethiopian Catholic Church and raised the eparchy of Asmara to a Metropolitan Archeparchy.

Notable Monuments: St. Joseph's Cathedral in Asmara.

Notable Saints: St. Justin de Jacobis (July 31); St. Frumentius (October 27); St. Kaleb Elesbaan of Axum (October 27).

Extent of Official Jurisdiction: The Archeparchy of Asmara and three suffragan eparchies, all in Eritrea. (Sphere of influence always extends beyond the official jurisdiction due to members of the church living outside of any official jurisdiction of the church.)

Online Sources and Resources:

Monday, May 25, 2015

Three Wombs

The Syriac fathers view Christ's redemptive work as resulting from his entry into three wombs: the womb of Mary, the waters of the Jordan, and the depths of sheol. (This very concept is affirmed in the Maronite Anaphora for the consecration of baptismal water when the celebrant states, "By your will, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, he abided in three places: in a womb of flesh, in the womb of baptism, and in the dark mansions of sheol.")

Seely Joseph Beggiani, Early Syriac Theology, Revised edition, CUA Press (Washington, D.C.: 2014) p. 41.

Hanique, Part III

I stared at him in bewilderment.

"Please sit down," the Dean said. "I always look forward to these talks, Dr. Montgomery." The smile on his face seemed permanently frozen.

I sat down, feeling nervous and edgy.

"I'm glad to have a chance to talk to you," I said. "I have made some recent discoveries that I need to talk to you about. The research may require travel funds."

"Discoveries?" The frozen smile somehow seemed slightly more frozen.

I began with the events of the conference and told him of my research since then.

"And you have drawn conclusions from this?"

"Conclusions?" I said angrily. "Conclusions? Getting conclusions from this evidential mess is impossible. Even to begin to get a hold on this problem, I'll need to go to Hanique myself and...."

"Where is this 'Hanique'?"

I was at a complete loss, suddenly realizing for the first time that I hadn't the faintest notion of where Hanique was located. The only evidence I had that it actually existed at all, and was not a corruption like 'Boulagnon' was usually assumed to be, as the obscure statement of the man at the conference. A man I could not contact, as I did not even know his name.

I was still caught up in the puzzle this presented when the voice of the Dean broke in.

"Dr. Montgomery," he asked, "have you been taking your medications?"

Startled by the odd, and rather insulting, question, I replied indignantly, "I don't take medications; I haven't had anything recently except a few aspirin."

"Aspirin," he said, the frozen smile turning suddenly into a frown. "Do you mean the white pills? You are only taking the white pills?"

"Aspirin are usually white," I replied sarcastically. "But I don't see what business it is of yours what I'm taking or not."

"And the others?"

"What others?"

"The red and the yellow pills," he replied. "What have you been doing with the red and yellow pills?"

"Look," I said. "You're just a Dean. You're not my doctor, so I don't understand why you keep talking about medications."

The frozen smile returned to the his face.

"Dr. Montgomery," the Dean said, "we both know that I am not the Dean."

I stared at him in bewilderment.

to be continued

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Fortnightly Book, May 24

The fortnightly book this time around will be Umberto Eco's third novel, The Island of the Day Before. It's unlikely to top The Name of the Rose or Foucault's Pendulum, the only fiction works by Eco that I've read (I've read a large portion of his nonfiction), and a look at critical reviews shows that most people think it hasn't come close, but as it's Eco one can be sure that there will be plenty in the book to like, whatever its shortcomings.

In the 1640s, Roberto della Griva finds himself shipwrecked and cast up, not on a deserted island but on a deserted ship. He's stuck there because although he can see land, he cannot swim. It is thus a Robinsonade with a twist. (Telegraphed by the name of the main character, who is doubly Robin-ish: Robin is a diminutive for Robert and 'Griva' is Catalan for a thrush, of which a robin is one kind; and the robin references are increased by other names, like Wanderdrossel, also a name for a thrush.) It, of course, would not be an Eco novel without also being a treatise on epistemology, and one can see just by glancing through that we have Eco's full toolbox of semiotic quirks and curiosities -- doppelgangers and lists and anachronistic allusions and endlessly many other things.