Saturday, June 20, 2015

Locus Focus

The Lake Beneath the Paris Opera House
The Phantom of the Opera

by Gaston Leroux

At last, César raised his nostrils, sniffed the air and quickened his pace a little. I felt a moistness in the air and César stopped. The darkness had lifted. A sort of bluey light surrounded us. We were on the edge of a lake, whose leaden waters stretched into the distance, into the darkenss; but the blue light lit up the bank and I saw a little boat fastened to an iron ring on the wharf!

The Palais Garnier or Paris Opera House is almost the most striking character of The Phantom of the Opera, and I almost picked this city-unto-itself as the place to focus on. But, if you really think about it, the place that really dominates the story is the lake five stories below.

Apparently the idea of a lake or river beneath it was a common rumor the day; they had had considerable difficulty drying the foundations, so the architect built big cisterns and a small waterway to help reduce the amount of groundwater linking into the cellars. But the notion of a lake beneath the extraordinarily elaborate and expensive building is just too striking an idea to miss. I mean, seriously, what would your reaction be if you learned that there was a passageway somewhere in the building you're now in that leads to an underground lake? That can take an already interesting building and make it amazing.

And the Opera House in the story has to be the Opera House with the lake, even if it is more legend than history, because this story is about secrets, and nothing so perfectly captures this as the lake itself.

But perhaps 'secret' is not quite the right word. Given the size of the Opera House, it would not be surprising if even an entire lake were secret, in much the same way that even the managers did not know that the Opera House had its own stables, despite knowing that their productions regularly used horses. But Christine already knew that the lake and its boat existed, although she had never seen them before. In this way it is like the Opera Ghost: it's perhaps not correct to call him a secret, because everyone talks about him. But that's different from really coming across him, just as knowing that a lake is under the building is different from actually finding it. Things may be known about without being known. So what would be a word for something that's not really secret and yet is somehow elusive? I don't know if there is a word in English for it, but perhaps 'mystery' is close.

And that fits in another way, because Gaston Leroux is very much a mystery writer, and his narrator is piecing together a historical mystery out of newspaper evidence and written and oral anecdotes.

The events do not date more than thirty years back; and it would not be difficult to find at the present day, in the foyer of the ballet, old men of the highest respectability, men upon whose word one could absolutely rely, who would remember as though they happened yesterday the mysterious and dramatic conditions that attended the kidnapping of Christine Daaé, the disappearance of the Vicomte de Chagny and the death of his elder brother, Count Philippe, whose body was found on the bank of the lake that exists in the lower cellars of the Opera on the Rue-Scribe side.

The mysterious character of the lake lies not in its being unknown but in its being known and yet suggestive of much more than one knows. Perhaps we could say that while the lake is not a secret, it is a lake that seems to hold secrets, and in this case certainly does. In a real sense, the story of The Phantom of the Opera is not that of the Opera Ghost but of the Opera House, which holds many mysteries: the Opera Ghost is just the mystery whose secrets hold the key to uncovering so many other secrets. And all of those secrets come together on the lake far below the surface.

Friday, June 19, 2015

There's Much Afoot in Heaven and Earth This Year

The Rainy Summer
by Alice Meynell

There’s much afoot in heaven and earth this year;
The winds hunt up the sun, hunt up the moon,
Trouble the dubious dawn, hasten the drear
Height of a threatening noon.

No breath of boughs, no breath of leaves, of fronds,
May linger or grow warm; the trees are loud;
The forest, rooted, tosses in her bonds,
And strains against the cloud.

No scents may pause within the garden-fold;
The rifled flowers are cold as ocean-shells;
Bees, humming in the storm, carry their cold
Wild honey to cold cells.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Word & Question (Poem Draft)

So this is an entry for Enbrethiliel's Word & Question Game, in which people send in a word and a question, and then they get mixed up and sent out to different people as poem prompts. I confess I hadn't the faintest idea what to do with the word. Had I been fancy-fancy I would have done something with the original bundok, but mixing in Tagalog and answering the question and using the word 'boondocks' all at once is a bit beyond my minor poetic powers. I also had the difficulty that 'boondocks' is a word that almost demands a poem with sharp edges, but the words for answering the question kept settling down in less spiky ways, giving the whole, I think something of a discordant tone. But I might eventually do something with the last bit of it.

Word: Boondocks
Question: Have we been here before?

The streams through hollow hills,
cold and softly shushing in the night,
like roads through giant's halls
not yet touched by dawning of the light;
yes, some have known these things,
though never televised.

I saw upon the screen
a thousand stars at night;
and heard the screech-owl's scream
and recorded catbird's note.

Dust and bur beneath bare soles,
a fish fresh-caught from by the quay,
sunset setting down its seal
upon the letter of the day:
you cannot learn these things
from what is televised.

The illusion that one knows:
that is the city life;
knowing about, as from the news,
but not here with hate and love.

In the boondocks one learns one's will,
for better or for worse,
and, too, one's limits like a wall,
and how to stay the course,
and the presence of the thing
that stays untelevised.

In a box of walls with pride
we account us worldly-wise
who've never in dust prayed
or felt the world's own ways.

We walked, both you and I,
down a road as yet unpaved;
it was known, I know not why,
and yet unknown, like life unproved;

we walked where only deer
knew the paths that came and went,
felt what wonder we could dare,
and the pull of aching want,

we walked upon the leaves
falling on the forest floor,
knew them like old loves,
though we were never here before,

and felt the shock, the sheer surprise,
of what goes untelevised.

Thursday Virtue: Observantia

Tucked away and easy to miss in Aquinas's many discussions of virtue is the virtue of observantia (2-2.102), closely related to pietas and, like pietas, a potential part or auxiliary virtue of justice. We might indeed, given things that Aquinas says about it, regard observantia as a potential part of pietas.

Pietas is giving direct and indirect honor to our parents, to whom we owe a moral debt; that is, we honor our parents directly for bringing us into the world, and we honor them indirectly by giving honor to their family and to their patria or homeland. But there are ways in which we may be related to others who are not our parents that are in some way or other analogous to the way we are related to our parents. In one case, that of God, the relation is more fundamental and complete than that of our relation to our parents, and this concerns the virtue of religio; in other cases, the relation is looser, and it is these that are the concern of observantia, which is the virtue of giving proper honor to those in positions of dignity or excellence. Like many of Aquinas's basic definitions of potential parts of justice, the definition is derived from Cicero.

In order to develop this idea, Aquinas uses the notion of pater; since observantia is analogy-based, nothing much turns on whether we read it in its specific meaning of 'father' or its generic meaning of 'parent', but the same word in relation to piety has to be understood as including, not excluding, our mothers, so it is certainly more appropriate here to think of it in terms of 'parent'. A parent is a principle of generation, upbringing, and learning, and of whatever is relevant to the completion of a human life (pater est principium et generationis et educationis et disciplinae, et omnium quae ad perfectionem humanae vitae pertinent). Just as a parent shares in a particular way the nature of a principle, which God has in a complete way, so too certain other people share in a particular way the nature that a parent has in a complete way. We see this in our tendency to extend respect given to parents to other people under limited conditions, because they have a similar sort of charge, but over a narrow field. Aquinas specifically mentions the prince of a city (for civil matters), the dux or general (for military matters), and the teacher (for learning). But there are many, very many, more ways in which one may involve something like this notion of a parent.

Aquinas identifies two major acts associated with observantia: honor and worship (cultus). Honor is recognition of an excellence; worship is deference in which one obeys someone worthy of honor or repays benefits received from them in some appropriate way. Worship in this sense thus adds to honor the notion of decent action between human beings. But there are a lots of different kinds of things we call 'honor' and 'worship', not all of which are relevant to observantia itself. Thus, for instance, if you are a soldier giving obedience and showing respect to your general, you have a well-defined obligation of obedience. This makes that kind of honor a matter of justice in the strict sense, not of a virtue like observantia that deals with less-defined matters and can only be regarded as justice in a broad sense. Thus the kinds of honor and worship that are relevant to observantia arise when there is not any precise action that we have to do given our position in society. Thus one might show respect to a teacher even though one is not that teacher's student, because the role of 'teacher' is itself something that has an excellence with respect to the common good of society. Likewise, one might show respect to a mother even though you are not related to her in any determinable way at all, because motherhood is itself an excellence, given its importance to the healthy functioning of society. And, of course, since there is no precise obligation, one would tend to render such respect on a sliding scale, with those who fulfill these roles with the greatest and clearest virtue being given the greatest honor. If anyone were to ask why we do this given that we don't strictly have to do so, we would say that we do it because, despite not being strictly required by our position, it is nonetheless a good thing to do.

One of the things that makes observantia interesting as a virtue is that it is a particularly promising locus for comparison between Western philosophy and Chinese philosophy, since it has many analogies to the Confucian conception of good social relations. Like the Confucian idea, observantia in society at large is derivative from pietas toward our parents, which serves as a kind of foundation for it.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Sui Juris Churches XXI: The Bulgarian Greek Catholic Church

(on sui juris churches in general)

Liturgical Family: Byzantine

Primary Liturgical Language: Bulgarian

Juridical Status: Apostolic Exarchate

Approximate Population: Roughly 10,000 to 11,000

Brief History: Bulgarians had long had a dream of autocephaly; relations between Christians in Bulgaria and Constantinople were always more than slightly complicated. In the nineteenth century, a politician named Dragan Tsankov began to suggest that this might be practically accomplished by communion with Rome along the lines of the Ruthenian Unions. This seems to have met pockets of the population that were already interested in the idea. In 1859, a group of people in Kukush (modern Kilkis) sent a letter to the Pope desiring union under the condition that they would be able to keep their rites and elect their own bishops; and in the next year Tsankov and a number of other intellectuals gave a similar letter to the Apostolic Vicar in Constantinople. Pius IX did not hesitate; he accepted the offers and in 1861 named Joseph Sokolsky, one of Tsankov's delegation, their archbishop. Unfortunately, Sokolsky's appointment had relatively little effect, because the Russians, worried about what a Bulgarian Uniate Church might do to their influence in Bulgaria, kidnapped him a few months later and threw him in prison. The Bulgarians uniting with Rome had no real religious leader until 1863, when Raphael Popov, who had been a deacon while in Tsankov's delegation, was elected bishop.

The movement for union spread, slowly, but the wind was taken out of its sails when the Ottoman Empire itself pressed for an Orthodox Bulgarian Exarchate. That process took a while, but as the Patriarchate in Constantinople made more and more concessions in that direction, the Bulgarians received a measure of ecclesial independence that removed one of the obvious reasons for becoming Catholic.

In 1874, another group in Kukush added its stream to the mix when the Orthodox Bishop of Kukush himself, Nil Izorov, joined communion with Rome. Izorov had been involved in the development of the Bulgarian Exarchate, but in the process of contributing he came to the conclusion that Bulgarian communities in Macedonia were deliberately being left out. His attempts to force a more explicit confrontation on this issue were not appreciated, and the Patriarchate pressured the Exarchate to recall him, which it eventually did. The recall was taken by Bulgarians in Macedonia as a clear sign that Izorov had been right, and several of these Bulgarian communities began actively insisting that the Exarchate give them their own eparchy under Izorov. The Exarchate refused, so they tried to become Anglican. But the British at the British Consulate were wary about getting involved in this kind of politics, so that went nowhere as well. Well, third time's the charm; they approached Rome, and Rome had none of the political qualms of the others. Izorov would become the head of the small Bulgarian Uniate community after the death of Popov, but in 1895 would return to the Orthodox Church. This would actually be a constant problem in the early history of the Bulgarian Catholic Church, as a number of priests and bishops would waver back and forth between being Catholic and being Orthodox.

The Bulgarian Catholic communities in Macedonia would be in for difficult days during the Balkan Wars and the First World War, as they were caught in the middle of several different, and very intense, political struggles. Kukush would be burned by the Greeks; the Turks began a genocide of Bulgarians in Thrace. Bulgarians fled in massive numbers to Bulgaria, which, unfortunately, did not have the resources to handle them. The situation would devastate the Bulgarian Catholic Church in its original homelands, but enough survivors congregated in Bulgaria that in 1925 the Apostolic Visitor to Bulgaria, Angelo Rancalli, began to press for a reorganization, and in the next year Rome established the Apostolic Exarchate of Sofia to take care of them.

Unfortunately, Bulgaria had been invaded by the Soviets toward the end of World War II (thus switching Bulgaria from an Axis nation to an Allied nation), and that meant that the Communists were in control of Bulgaria. Fortunately the persecution of the Catholic Church in Bulgaria was much less severe than it was in many other places; the Church was never officially suppressed, although there were executions early on and it was subject to the usual long list of restrictions. Even these were said to have been more lightly enforced after Angelo Rancalli became Pope John XXIII.

In 1989 the Communist regime lost power, and since that time the Bulgarian Greek Catholic Church has slowly managed to regain its confiscated property and expand.

Notable Saints: As a Byzantine Rite church, the Bulgarian Greek Catholics have a number of Byzantine Calendar saints on their calendar. In addition, there are a number of Greek Catholic martyrs under the Communist regime who might someday be beatified or canonized; I believe that Bl. Kamen Vitchev is the only one who has been beatified so far. Given his close association with both Latin and Greek Rite churches in Bulgaria, having devoted nearly a decade of his career to Bulgarian Catholics, John XXIII (October 11) could probably be added to the list.

Notable Religious Institutes: One of the longstanding religious orders is the Holy Eucharist Sisters, whose active involvement in the Bulgarian Greek Church goes back almost to the beginning. The Byzantine Discalced Carmelites, while small, are also relatively active.

Extent of Official Jurisdiction: One Apostolic Exarchate in Bulgaria.

Online Sources and Resources:

The Analects, Books XI-XII

Book XI

Book XI can be seen as giving more information about Confucius's school, in the sense of his teaching and how he interacted with his students. We get some indication of the major subjects discussed and considered important (11.3), for instance: virtuous conduct, speech, administration, culture and learning.

We also get a better sense of Yan Hui, Master Kong's greatest student, who unfortunately died relatively young. He was one of the students who excelled at virtuous conduct (11.3), and was the one student Master Kong considered genuinely fond of learning (11.7). (You will remember that 'fond of learning' was a key summary phrase 1.14.) Master Kong lamented his death deeply (11.9; 11.10), but honored him not with showy externals but with proper regard for the rites (11.8; 11.11). The famous comment at 11.12 about ghosts and death is often treated alone, but I wonder if it should be included with the loosely group comments concerned with Yan Hui's death: here too, Master Kong takes our proper concern in the face of death to be simply good and appropriate behavior. We also get a poignantly ironic anecdote about him from an important time in Master Kong's life (11.21).

We also see a number of other interactions between Confucius and his more extreme students. We have a rare, if limited, defense of Zilu (=Zhong You) (11.15), who is often presented as the primary instance of the what-not-to-do student: no matter how small it may be, his genuine progress is not to be despised. We have a sharp criticism of Ziyou (=Ran You, = Ran Qiu) (11.17), one of the most important students, and some remarkably strong criticisms (11.18) of various students, although not attributed Master Kong himself. A very interesting anecdote shows Master Kong giving opposite advice to Ran You and to Zhong You alike, in which he gives them opposing advice, thus tailoring his teaching to the personality of each (11.20), and another in which he assesses their weaknesses and merits (11.22).

Most interesting of all, perhaps, is the long anecdote in which Confucius asks four of his students, Zilu, Ran You, Gongxi Hua, and Zeng Xi, what their ambition is. Zilu and Ran You we have by this point met in spades. Zeng Xi was the father of Master Zeng, whose reflections we got in Book I. Gongxi Hua was praised by Master Kong in Book V for his familiarity with ritual. Each of the students gives their description of the life they would like to live if someone were to shower reward on their merits. After Zeng Xi gives his own scenario, which involved a very simple life, Confucius affirms the excellence of that ambition. Afterward, Zeng Xi asks him what the difference is, and the difference is that the other three's ambitions were equivalent to wanting extraordinary power in a state.

Book XII

Book XII opens and closes with ren, humanity to oneself and others. The first three analects consist of students asking about ren and getting different answers from Master Kong. The first answer (12.1), given to Yan Hui, is to subdue oneself and return to li (ritual or appropriate behavior); as Yan Hui is Master Kong's best and most virtuous student, this answer seems to give us something like the most complete or adequate understanding of how to cultivate humanity. The second answer (12.2), to Zhonggong (=Ran Yong), focuses on practical tasks rather than general practical principles, giving several maxims the following of which would in some way require subduing oneself and conforming to ritual, including a maxim of reciprocity ("Do not impose on others what you would not like yourself"). The third answer (12.3), to Sima Niu, is simply to hesitate in talking; Sima Niu is baffled by the answer, but Master Kong says that achieving ren is difficult and, recognizing that, one could hardly avoid hesitating to talk about. Part of what seems to be going on here is Confucius's standard practice of tailoring his teaching to the student. Yan Hui, as the most virtuous of the students, does not require particular tasks to follow; even when he asks for clarification, Master Kong stays at a general level. Zhonggong gets more pragmatic advice, presumably because he needs it. And with Sima Niu the advice ultimately boils down to insisting on treating ren with the seriousness it deserves, using an external behavior as a sign of this internal disposition. (Sima Niu also seems to have had a reputation among Confucius's students for talking, so it could very well that there is an implicit criticism here.)

With its consideration of humaneness, the chapter interweaves discussions of government (12.4, 12.7, 12.9, 12.10, 12.11, 12.14, 12.17, 12.19, 12.20, 12.21) and the noble person or gentleman (12.4, 12.5, 12.8, 12.16, 12.19, 12.24). The interweaving is so thorough it does not seem to be wholly accidental. While it may be dangerous to impose too rigorous a pattern on the book, there does seem to be a sort of unified thematic tapestry here. All of these matters -- humanity, government, nobility -- are interlinked in Confucian thought. One of their key elements is captured in the last three analects of the book, which bring us back to the ren discussed in the first three analects. Asked what ren is, Master Kong says it is to love others, and to understand is to understand others (12.22). The primary actions of all the major ideas discussed in this book are other-directed. This leads to a comment by Master Kong about friends (12.23) and another comment by Master Zeng linking culture, friendship, and the noble person (12.24).

to be continued

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Brushing Up on Languages

One of the things I am doing this summer is brushing up on languages. Something I came across that has turned out to be quite useful is Duolingo, which is free and actually quite effective. Each Duolingo course aims to cover roughly the same ground as about a year at the college-level, and does so mostly by drilling dressed up as a game. It's especially good for a refresher. I started the French course on June 1, and am about two-thirds of the way done, and have found it reasonably good at stitching up patches in my memory. I liked it enough that I've also been taking the Bokmal (Norwegian) course, to see how useful it would be for learning a language almost from scratch (I knew a few words and phrases of Norwegian, but that's about it), and while this is obviously a much slower process than simply using it to review, it seems to be reasonably effective. I started the Bokmal at the same time as the French and I am about ten percent of the way through; but already can handle basic and generic sentences, at least, like Mange lærere leser bøker, "Many teachers read books". I'll be starting the Spanish tree a little later this month, also for a review, and the German tree (my German proficiency would be somewhere between my Norwegian and my French proficiency, since it's more advanced than nothing, but very patchy) a little later.

The languages they currently have are: Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Dutch, Irish, Danish, Swedish, Esperanto, Turkish, Norwegian, Ukrainian. There are several others that are in the process of being developed. There will eventually be a Vietnamese course available, so probably this fall I'll start using it for my on-again-off-again Vietnamese study. The courses are all crowdsourced, which means you occasionally run into odd translations, but this hasn't been a serious issue.

To brush up on Latin, I've been using some of Evan der Millner's YouTube videos, particularly his Latin in Latin course (Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV). He summarizes his approach here.

There are other online resources, of course, like this Norwegian mini-course that I'll be starting next week, as well as standard offline book approaches (e.g., I'm currently reading through Lingua Latina Per Se Illustrata), but I've found these to be both reasonably accessible and useful. So what online language resources have you found useful?

Sunday, June 14, 2015

First Principle of Wise Government

The first principle of every wise government is to tend towards the substantial good and not to waste its power in collecting the accidents and thus diminishing it. Thus for example, a commander who should prefer collecting the spoils left upon the battle-field, to pursuing the enemy and completing his rout, would manifestly lose precious time; his tactics would be quite opposed to the principle of the greatest celerity.
[Rosmini, Theodicy, volume 2, 363-364.]

With this established, we can immediately determine the first of all rules of good government, that is, the first criterion for evaluating the means for governing any society whatever. This first rule and criterion is indubitably the following: That which constitutes the existence or substance of a society is to be preserved and strengthened, even at the cost of having to neglect that which forms its accidental refinement.

When this self-evident rule is applied to civil society, it becomes the first norm of sound politics.

In the same way we can also deduce the greatest errors in government. They are those by which the government of a society loses sight of all that constitutes the subsistence of the society because of its excessive concern for the society’s progress towards accidental perfection.
[Rosmini, Philosophy of Politics, Volume 1, Chapter 1]

Poem a Day XIV

Gold and Green

A tree is rooted in the earth,
an earthy thing, a mattered thing,
but spreads its branches to the sky,
and drinks the sun, and grows in light.
How strange the one who with a smirk
insists the sun is but a fruit,
or that it cannot be at all
because it is not formed by tree.

So look, O man! For in the dawn
that shines through branches richly green,
a gold that lightens with a fire
is seen, beyond the earthy tree.