Saturday, August 18, 2018

Frances Mossiker, Napoleon and Josephine


Opening Passage: The book actually opens with several letters from Napoleon to Josephine, after which it says:

These are the first of the Letters to Josephine, the Honeymoon Letters, the Letters of Delirium, the Letters from Italy, as they have variously been titled--the immortal love letters of the Italian campaign, that first crucial military exploit of the Napoleonic epic.

The letters, like the man himself, are extraordinary, startling, sometimes shocking; alternately savage and tender, suppliant and imperative, rapturous and tormented, philosophical and erotic; they are letters to transfix the heart. (p. 18)

Summary: They were both in a sense from the margins of French society. Marie-Jos├Ęphe-Rose Tascher de la Pagerie, better known as Josephine, was a Creole from Martinique; Napoleone di Buonaparte was from a minor noble family in Corsica, which had not too long before become a province of France. Rough provincials, both; and yet they proved to be a powerful combination. We tend to think of Napoleon as standing alone, but that is mostly Napoleon on the battlefield; Napoleon had a knack for mastery, but Josephine, a wisp of a woman who was occasionally disparaged behind her back as ignorant and stupid, was able, with her simple and engaging manner, to make social connections that mattered. And she was as good at her task as Napoleon was at his; it was her only instrument of survival before she met him. In a very real sense, it was their marriage that conquered Europe.

Napoleon was Josephine's second husband; her first husband, Alexandre de Beauharnais, was guillotined in the Terror; she survived thereafter by attaching herself to powerful men. She became first the mistress, then the wife, of the rising military force that was Napoleon; it is because of him that she is known as Josephine at all. Napoleon was extraordinarily taken with her, and he married her despite the fact that the rest of his family had nothing but contempt for this older widow who already had two children. She also didn't have a particularly good reputation and, in fact, when he was away on the Italian campaign writing her passionate love letters, she was having an affair with Hippolyte Charles, a cavalry officer. As Napoleon began to learn what was going on, it brought his tumultuous passion to an end. But not their marriage, nor, for that matter, the affection between them. Napoleon, after all, was no saint, and would have mistresses throughout the marriage. And Josephine, with her softly feminine ways and ready tears, had entirely entangled this younger man who could destroy an army without hesitation but who would become agitated and miserable if he made a woman cry.

In 1804, eight years after their marriage, Napoleon became Emperor; much of this, obviously was Napoleon's own success and charm, but much of it, too, was Josephine's doing, because it was in great measure she who kept him in the center of society. The Creole from Martinique, who had not been born to high society Paris but had had to learn it, bit by bit, and took none of it for granted and every detail as essential, was the most impeccably elegant of wives, throwing the best parties, finding the most connected people, charming her way here and there and being an intermediary channel to Napoleon. It also got her into plenty of trouble; for instance, she was never not in massive debt, even when the Empress of one of the wealthiest nations on earth. But while Napoleon may have always grumbled at how much he kept having to pay out, it was in a sense all turned to good use, because she gave to Napoleonic rule a genial diplomatic aspect that captured hearts as well as territory.

Napoleon, however, had ambitions that were more than merely imperial, and you cannot found a dynasty if you do not beget children. Try as they might, it kept not happening, and as time went on Josephine's place at Napoleon's side became more and more precarious -- and she became more and more desperate to keep him, in a complete reversal of their courting days when he had been all tumultuous earnestness and she had been affectionate but cool. The divorce was probably inevitable, but Napoleon acted very much like a man who feels guilty at what he is doing, delaying and dithering. It was not personal; it was only Empire. He did eventually go through with it in 1810, both of them attempting to make it as amicable as possible, and married Marie-Louise of Austria -- younger and more promising as a source of sons. He seems to have eventually come to have a sort of affectionate respect for Marie-Louise, but there is a real sense in which an heir is all that Marie-Louise contributed to Napoleon's rule. She did not have the charm, did not have the simple, engaging personability, was not at all sociable, and she was always being compared unfavorably with the one she replaced. Her reputation was more virtuous than Josephine's (although sometimes only her reputation), but to rule France doesn't require virtue; it requires charm. And it is probably not an accident that Napoleon's rule began to crumble after his divorce of Josephine; the invasion of Russia was the critical disaster, but it was the disaster it was because Napoleon had already begun losing his grip on things at home.

To the end of their days, however, they both affirmed their affection and devotion for each other, and, always cognizant of each other's faults, seem genuinely never to have lost their admiration for each other's strengths. It shows something of how strange a marriage can be, that it was probably doomed to fail, and yet still was powerful in its own right, with a force long postdating its end.

It was to General Bertrand, on March 14, 1821, less than two months before Napoleon's death, that he had his final say on Josephine: "I truly loved her, although I didn't respect her. She was a liar and an utter spendthrift, but she had a certain something that was irresistible. She was a woman to her very finger tips." (p. 404)

Mossiker's 'biography of a marriage' is very engagingly written, letting each of the major players speak for themselves while nonetheless providing the context required for fully understanding the implications of what they were saying. And she does very well at preventing the work from collapsing into a biography of Josephine or a biography of Napoleon; the marriage itself is at every point the center of the book, a single thing that in some ways worked on its own and in ways that neither of the spouses involved ever could have anticipated, and accomplished things that neither of the spouses could have ever accomplished alone.

Favorite Passage:

It is a tribute to the generally superficial conventions of that ancien-régime society that Mrs. Elliott should have found "consolation for the horrors of the Carmes" at finding herself in "the good company of so many delightful, so many great ladies" there. The fact that equanimity and good humor were prime requisites of social intercourse among the French aristocracy accounted to a great extent for the display of high morale and valor in the Revolutionary prisons, a marvel to every contemporary reporter. It is less likely that these effete and pampered noblemen and noblewomen were uniformly valorous than that they were uniformly products of their social code: they demonstrated, in the last extremity, that good manners could reinforce--if not substitute for--character, and that a carefully cultivated insouciance could make an acceptable substitute for heroism. (p. 62)

Recommendation: Recommended; it's very much worth reading if it comes your way.

Frances Mossiker, Napoleon and Josephine: The Biography of a Marriage, Simon and Schuster (New York: 1964).

Two Poem Drafts


The breezes breathe upon my cheek,
the sylphan zephyrs sigh;
the heat of day now falls away
beneath the black of sky.
The heat of day is beaten back,
the heart in uplift sings;
the track I travel through the night
beneath my footstep rings,
and soon the moon will rise and gleam
with light no shadow mars
amid that field a-bloom with dreams,
the sky semé with stars.


Never knew I how to dream
until I dreamed of you
walking through the garden ways,
the grasses rich with dew,
thick and humming buzz of bees
beginning just to build.
Then and there I bent the knee,
my heart to you to yield;
there and then I knew the light,
my heart with wonder stilled.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Dashed Off XIX

Advertisements work by culture-building rather than any direct influence. This suggests that effectiveness is affected by conspicuousness, diversity of contributions to a specific cultural thread (e.g., recreation or athletics), and memorability.

Utilitarianism, by its nature, gives the violent the power to determine morality (through violent consequences).

self-rule for Christ as royal aspect of Confirmation
self-offering to Christ as priestly aspect
confession of Christ as prophetic aspect

the blank page as sign of possibility (cp Peirce)

Cyril of Jerusalem explicitly analogizes Real Presence in Eucharist to Real Presence in Chrism (Myst 3.3).

Eucharist & unction are both pledges of hope in resurrection.

As Christ is two-natured, divine and human, so the Eucharist is two-natured, heavenly and earthly (Irenaeus, Damascene). Therefore the two should not be confused or mingled (consubstantiation) or changed into each other (impanation), or separated from each other (memorialism). This corresponds to blocking monophysitism and the notion that Jesus is mere man. Transubstantiation would correspond to blocking Nestorianism.

The miracles of Christ are quite specific -- he does many of them because asked, and the others are all concerned with teaching.

the internal goods of an inquiry

'A priori methods', over all, actually work quite well; they generally suffer, properly applied, only due to the limits of human ingenuity and imagination, and provide at least a good first approximation within those limits. All those disparaging 'intuitions about space and time' due to later discovery are overlooking the role of such 'intuitions' in that discovery -- indeed, their ongoing role even given the corrections raised by discovery.

Talk of 'folk theories' is part of a folk theory of ideas.

Treating law as a part of psychology tells you almost nothing about law. While occasionally a Legal Realist will come up with something interesting, doing so seems to have less to do with the approach than with the ingenuity of the person, and reading through texts of Legal Realists is an extraordinary exercise in being unenlightened -- especially since Legal Realists do not seem to do the actual empirical work that would be required to follow through on their promissory notes (a trait they share with their Quinean cousins in epistemology). This is unfortunate given that there is a genuine (albeit modest) role to play in this field for serious empirical study of causes.

On Alf Ross's theory of utterances, Boo! should be counted as a directive and not an exclamation because it involves intent to influence without representation.

Contrary to Alf Ross, the primary rules of chess would have to be assertions in his sense, not directives; they represent what is counted as a particular piece-move relation (for instance) and are not themselves put forward to influence (contrast with, say, chess advice). They describe the game. They are specifications. Directives only enter in with morality, in a broad sense -- cheating and fairness and playing appropriately. his claim that the wish to cheat always involves an external goal is in fact itself a reason to think his analysis of chess is wrong.

The socially binding character of a rule is not a matter of introspected feeling.

Like all naturalisms, Legal Realism has difficulty establishing closure in a way consistent with itself.

The will of the people and the sanctity of human life are not things that should have to be 'balanced'.

That some claim is classified as a probability in and of itself indicates that the claim is a conclusion. Probabilities of claims are not themselves axiomatic.

"The confession of evil works is the beginning of good works: You are doing the truth, and coming to the light." (Augustine)

Who lacks a sense of sin, lacks a sense of gift.

Evangelization is storytelling.

"What can be circumscribed can also be taken as a model for the image that is drawn." Theodore the Studite

"Things here are signs; they show therefore to the wiser teachers how the supreme God is known; the instructed priest reading the sign may enter the holy place and make real the vision of the inaccessible." Plotinus Ennead 6.9

design as a deontic concept
deontic logic as a logic of design

the Mediocre Man approach to history

"It is saying nothing to say that fear invented the gods of most people. For fear, considered as such, does not invent anything; it simply awakens the understanding." Herder

Kant's classification of theistic arguments:
(1) concept of the possible
(1.a) to existence as consequence: ontological argument
(1.b) to existence as ground: the only possible ground argument
(2) empirical content of existent
(2.a) to cause with attributes appropriate to God: cosmological argument
(2.b) as God: teleological argument

Kant takes the 'I think' of rational psychology to involve an analogue of the ontological argument. (Thinking is what cannot be thought otherwise than as subject; it therefore exists as subject.) He does not, however, do much with this. But the parallel:
(1) concept of thinking thing
(1.a) therefore existing as consequence
(1.b) therefore existing as ground
(2) sense of myself
(2.a) therefore there is a cause, of a sort to be myself
(2.b) therefore I exist

To think and reason is to affirm possibilities.

aesthetic feeling as the intellectual 'sense' of willing and reacting

In the long run, the liturgy is doctrinally self-correcting.

In metaphyhsics, as elsewhere, use provides the method. There is no method, no way, until one already knows how to go.

The possibility of the unity of reflective experience requires a free cause.

NB Kant's reference to 'the famous ontological *or Cartesian* proof' (B630).

Gabriel: Baptism; Michael: Eucharist; Raphael: Reconciliation

COP #466: "The Mystery of Holy Anointing is performed collegially, by the prayer of the whole Church...."

Correlation connects to causation only when one recognizes it as an effect, which requires being able to ask whether it is accidental.

Whatever may be the case, some kind of whatever must be.

One source of variation in liturgical custom is the difference between a tightly bound culture (small communities, active distinctive self-awareness, people staying in a parish much of their lives) and a loosely bound culture (large, highly mobile, very generic shared cultural customs). For instance, chrismation of infants makes sense in a tightly bound culture; as it loosens, however, a later chrismation begins to make more sense.

German idealism : systematic :: German romanticism : eclectic

One can destroy creatively; one cannot blindly copy creatively.

fallacies of division and composition in analogical inference

"Whatever is artificial is creation in imitation of what is natural; for, in fact, nothing would be called artificial if it were not preceded by something that is natural." Theodore the Studite

The character sacraments establish that there may be icons of Christ, and their diversity that no icon may exhaust His glory.

analogue (resemblance), analogy, analogy-system

sign to object: by causation, by resemblance, by imposition
sign to interpretant: sensible, sensible-intelligible, intelligible
interpretant to object: anticipative (constructive), presential, memorative

vestigial resemblance, imaginal resemblance, similitudinal resemblance
that, what, why causal inferences
artifical (arbitrary), convergent, natural representation

Outside of mundane and regular courtesies, you should not volunteer yourself for things you do not actually want to do. (It is different if you are asked and there is a real need.) Outside of mundane and regular courtesies, you should not apologize in response to someone's demanding an apology to themselves, but you should also not apologize unless you are actually sorry. The reason is the astounding number of people using volunteering and apology as means of benefiting themselves to the harm of another. One should be generous with one's time, one should be ready to repent, but one should do so in a way that linkes to real need or mutual benefit, not to enabling manipulation by others.

Note that while the anti-Thomism is not his focus, Palamas's first letter to Akindynos is concerned with what Barlaam says in the course of attacking Thomism in the fifth anti-Latin treatise.

revelation as the manifestation of divine energies to us; deification as the manifestation of divine energies in and through us

Every nature is expressive.

"No being is composed of its own act." Palamas

essential union: Trinity :: hypostatic union : Christ :: energetic union : Church (Sacrament)

Divine energies are not mere second intentions; nor are they real parts; nor, indeed, properly any kind of parts at all. Having said this, one has wholly exhausted the question of what kind of distinction there is between essence and energies, barring direct revelation, because of the principle of remotion.

Udayana's list of oppositions to theism
(1) belief that there are no nonsensible causes
(2) belief that nonsensible causes do not require that God exists
(3) direct arguments that God does not exist
(4) opinion that God cannot be source of knowledge even if existent
(5) belief that there is a lack of arguments that prove that God exists

"All effects must have a cause since they are occasional, like the gratification produced by food." Udayana (in Cowell)

sacrifices -> merit -> superintendent of merit
Vedas -> good testimony is a fact about the testifier -> testifier

NB Udayana's method of going through each of the pramanas to remove objections.

Udayana's theistic arguments:
(1) Karyatvat: The earth &c. must have had a maker because they have the nature of effects; cf. a jar.
(2) Ayojanat: The action of combining two atoms must be from volition of an intelligent being, because it has the nature of an action; cf. actions of bodies such as ours.
(3) Dhrteh & Samharanak: The world depends on the will of a being hindering it from falling, because it has the nature of being supported; cf. a stick supported by a bird in the air. Also, the world is destroyed by a being's will because it is destructible; cf. a cloth that is torn.
(4) Padat: Traditional knowledge, like clothmaking, must have been originated by an independent being because it is traditionary; cf. modern modes of writing.
(5) Pratyaydt: The authoritative character of the Vedas arises from the virtue in its cause, because it is right knowledge; cf. the right knowledge from perception.
(6) Sruteh: The Vedas must be produced by a person because of its Vedic nature; cf. the Ayur-Veda.
(7) Anvayatah: The Vedas must be produced by a person because it involves sentences; cf. the Mahabharata. Or: The vedic sentences must be from a person because they have the nature of sentences; cf. the sentences of beings like ourselves.
(8) Samkhyarisesat: The measure of a dyad is produced by numeration since it is a derived measure not produced by aggregation; cf. a jar of three units being larger than a jar of two. Thus at creation the number two must be recognized by an intelligence other than ourselves, to give twoness to single atoms.

Udayana considers five objections to karyatvat:
(a) Only a body can be a maker, so God would lack the distinctive characteristic of a maker. -- The connection 'having the nature of an effect' establishes the maker regardless of expectations about bodies and makers; and one cannot infer that God is not a maker due to lack of body unless one knows what God is.
(b) There is an absence of a body which has invariable connection to making. -- The adding of 'by a body' to the connection overrestricts and ignores the primary connection, 'produced'.
(c) 'Only one possessed of a body can be a maker' is an opposing universal proposition. -- The connection of being an effect is, unlike corporeality of makers, an attribute of the thing considered, and where you have an effect, you must have a maker regardless.
(d) In all experienced cases, makers have bodies; thus this claimed instance of an incorporeal maker is not known to be possible; which is intensified by the contradiction between 'maker' and 'incorporeal'. -- The logical connection 'effect' itself establishes there is no contradiction, and if it were not possible at all the denial would not be saying anything substantive.
(e) The logical connection is too general, and should be restricted to 'produced by a corporeal agent'. -- The rejection of this restriction has been argued for, and the arguments for the restriction have been shown to fail.
---- In general, the claim, 'If God were a maker, He would have a body' requires that there be a God to know this of, and any defense depending on 'If there is a caused, there is a cause' would already be conceding the argument. Further, the Vedas reveal that this is right: 'I am the origin of all, all proceeds from me' (Bhagavad Gita 1.8). And this cause must be intelligent since the unintelligent produces because of the intelligent; so if the atoms, e.g., produced on their own, this would not be any different from saying that the atoms are intelligent. And analogous considerations arise for the rest.

Udayana also has an interesting line of argument in which all the arguments admit of an interpretation of the Vedas as authoritative: effect is effect in mind (purport) of Veda; combination is explanation, support etc. may mean preservation of tradition and its performance; traditional knowledge may mean words and their reference; authoritativeness may mean the object of the vedas; sentences may mean praise and blame; and particular number may mean first person speaker. All of these arguments, of course, build on the fact that even the atheistic schools regarded the Vedas as authoritative.

No one comes to know truth, properly speaking, who does not commit even to truth that is unknown.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Evening Note for Thursday, August 16

Thought for the Evening: Modal Operators with Multiple Arguments

In modal logic we most commonly deal with Box (strong modality) and Diamond (weak modality) as operators that each take one argument. Thus


So, for instance, these would be something like "Necessarily, p" and "Possibly, p", or else "Always p" and "Sometimes p", or however we are defining Box and Diamond. And of course these can be negated to get Not-Possibly, or what have you. But there's nothing that really requires us to hold that you can only have Boxes and Diamonds that take one argument. You can make perfect sense of a nullary modal operator, taking no arguments at all:

This is in fact pretty much how Top or Verum (⊤, T, or 1) and Bottom or Falsum (⊥, F, or 0) work in certain logical systems; Top, which represents tautology or always-true, is a Box and Bottom, which represents impossibility or never-true, is a Not-Diamond.

One can also have modal operators that take more than one argument. Two, for instance:


(The parentheses are optional, of course, but they are helpful at times if you are dealing with arguments that can be negated.) There is in fact one form of modal logic that is well known that is binary in this way: mereology. If, for instance, you have two things, a and b, that overlap,

O(a,b) or aOb,

depending on your conventions, the overlap functions here as a binary Diamond. Its behavior is a little more complicated than the unary Diamond we usually associate with modal logic (you have to be more careful with how you handle negations, for instance), but the only complications are those arising from having two arguments rather than just one, and not with how the operator itself works. One can even think of overlap in terms of possibility, if one wishes: if a and b overlap, then it is possible for something to be in both a and b.

While there is not as much work done on it, another instance of a binary Diamond would be a compossibility operator -- instead of "Possibly, p" you'd have "p and q are possible together", but we'd obviously still be dealing with possibilities; we'd just have added another argument. Modal logics of compossibility would have analogues in mereologies; indeed, if you think about it, one way to think about compossibility is to think of it by a metaphor of overlapping possibilities.

Nothing in overlap or compossibility requires that you only have binary operators for them. You can have three things that overlap, or four, or a hundred trillion, and likewise you can have multiple things that are all compossible together, as many as you please.

Various Links of Interest

* It's been known for some time that there is a considerable amount of corruption in the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. Events of the past few years, though, have increasingly suggested that it went much farther than previously thought. At this point I think there's a good argument that the episcopacy of the past fifty to seventy years has been at least as corrupt as it has ever been in the past thousand years, which is saying something given some of the low points. The most recent revelation, of course, has been the release of the grand jury document on clerical sex abuse in six dioceses of Pennsylvania, which serve about one and a half million Catholics. It is harrowing reading -- nearly nine hundred pages, describing about three hundred priests preying on over a thousand victims, each case determined to be at least probable given the evidence. Some of the cases are stomach-wrenching, involving rape of children, desecration of the sacraments, and cover-up. And justice is not going to be found: the report doesn't go past 2000, most of the actual instances deal with things whose time limit under the statute of limitations has already ended, and two-thirds of the priests involved are already dead. But what has really, I think, sparked a fury is that a number of bishops who would have had to have been complicit with the cover-ups have been presenting themselves to the public for years now as especially tough on sex abuse cases -- most notably Cardinal Wuerl, who was Bishop of Pittsburgh toward the end of the nightmare. Wuerl has, of course, disputed this and has said he does not intend to resign, which is rather ridiculous because at 77 he has already submitted resignation to the Holy See (all bishops have to do so at the age of 75); the Holy See just hasn't accepted it yet. Wuerl's case is made all the worse by the fact that he also claims to have known nothing of the evils perpetrated by his successor in the Washington DC see, McCarrick, despite the fact that it is difficult to see how he could not have known. And the bishops in general seem, unfortunately, to be hunkering down, which is not the right move, because words do not convey the sheer simmering fury I have seen among lay Catholics over this. It's increasingly clear that the bishops' feet are going to have to be held to the fire.

In any case, two posts of note on the whole thing:

The Czar of Muscovy at Gormogons

Darwin at DarwinCatholic

(Incidentally, some Catholics have proposed refusing to give to diocesan appeals until the bishops do something. This would, unfortunately, do nothing; diocesan appeals are basically taxes imposed on parishes, and the appeal to the laity is essentially asking them to pay for it so it doesn't have to come out of the parish operating budget. The diocese always gets its money, no matter how much or how little the laity give to an appeal. The only question is whether the parish will have to cut budgetary corners to cough it up or not.)

* How amateur sleuths finally tracked down the burial place of William Blake

* Anthony Madrid, Pop Songs in English, Written by Native Speakers of Swedish

* I have recently been watching the anime show, Cells at Work!, available online at Crunchyroll, and have been greatly enjoying it. The subs have the usual problem of English subtitles for anime, in that they convey the false impression that the Japanese swear at the drop of a hat, but I've seen worse, and the episodic stories about anthropomorphized cells in the metropolis of the human body are quite fun.

* Riccardo Sabbino, Ibn Sina's Logic, at the SEP

* The works of Aquinas online in Latin and English, in a fairly nice format.

Currently Reading

Frances Mossiker, Napoleon and Josephine
Thomas Joseph White, The Incarnate Lord: A Thomistic Study in Christology
Emmanuel Falque, The Wedding Feast of the Lamb
Rosamund Hodge, Endless Water, Starless Sky
Jules Verne, The Giant Raft

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

As If Another Jordan

Thou art the beginning, middle, and end of all goods transcending mind, for thy Son in His conception and divine dwelling in thee is made our sure and true security. Thus thy words were true: from the moment of His conception, not from thy death, thou didst say all generations should call thee blessed. It was thou who didst break the force of death, paying its penalty, and making it gracious. Hence, when thy holy and sinless body was taken to the tomb, the choirs of angels bore it, and were all around, leaving nothing undone for the honour of our Lord's Mother, whilst apostles and all the assembly of the Church burst into prophetic song, saying: "We shall be filled with the good things of Thy house, holy is Thy temple, wonderful in justice." And again: "The Most High has sanctified His tabernacle. The mountain of God is a fertile mountain, the mountain in which it pleased God to dwell." The apostolic band lifting the true ark of the Lord God on their shoulders, as the priests of old the typical ark, and placing thy body in the tomb, made it, as if another Jordan, the way to the true land of the gospel, the heavenly Jerusalem, the mother of all the faithful, God being its Lord and architect. Thy soul did not descend to Limbo, neither did thy flesh see corruption. Thy pure and spotless body was not left in the earth, but the abode of the Queen, of God's true Mother, was fixed in the heavenly kingdom alone.

John Damascene, First Sermon on the Dormition of the Virgin.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Voyages Extraordinaires #44: Le Sphinx des glaces

No doubt the following narrative will be received with entire incredulity, but I think it well that the public should be put in possession of the facts narrated in “An Antarctic Mystery.” The public is free to believe them or not, at its good pleasure.

No more appropriate scene for the wonderful and terrible adventures which I am about to relate could be imagined than the Desolation Islands, so called, in 1779, by Captain Cook. I lived there for several weeks, and I can affirm, on the evidence of my own eyes and my own experience, that the famous English explorer and navigator was happily inspired when he gave the islands that significant name.

A number of the Voyages Extraordinaires are sequels to other works in the series, but two are distinctive in that they are sequels to books by other authors, in each case to a book that was an extraordinarily important influence on Verne himself: Le Sphinx des glaces is a sequel to Edgar Allan Poe's The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, and Seconde Patrie is a sequel to Johann Wyss's The Swiss Family Robinson. Each of those works was a travelogue of sorts, and thus anticipated Verne's own approach to storytelling, although in both cases the author tended more to the fantastic than Verne himself preferred. This gives an interesting flavor to Verne's sequels, since the prior works allow a very Vernean narrative for a sequel but also put Verne in a context where, having to respect what has been established by another, he has to stretch himself a bit.

Poe's The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, his only novel, is famous for being simultaneously exquisitely crafted and border-line incoherent. Poe seems to have originally intended for it to be a realistic sea-tale, but as the story went on, the fantastic elements seem to have accumulated until the narrative makes it difficult to distinguish what is supposed to be real and what is supposed to be hallucination. The story, which details a trip to Antarctica, is filled with things like ships filled with corpses, and survival-cannibalism, and strange mists, and ends, abruptly, with the survivors seeing a strange figure entirely in white and beyond that no closure about what exactly happened to Arthur Gordon Pym. The novel did not do all that well at the time, but it became a significant influence on quite a few other authors: Melville, Baudelaire, Lovecraft, and, of course, Verne himself, who must have loved the Antarctic voyage aspect when he read the work in Baudelaire's translation.

An Antarctic Mystery, as it is sometimes titled in English, tells the story of an American, named Jeorling, who is wealthy and is using his wealth to study natural history around the world. He is also an enthusiastic fan of the work of Edgar Allan Poe. When the story opens he has spent some time in the Kerguelen Islands and is looking for passage back home, by way of Tristan da Cunha. He finds a ship, with some difficulty, and then discovers to his astonishment that the captain of the ship is firmly convinced that the events in Poe's novel were real. Jeorling originally discounts this as a strange sort of madness, but as the voyage progresses, the evidence that the captain is right begins to mount up until Jeorling, too, is convinced of it, and decides to help the captain to find out what happened to Arthur Gordon Pym. They set out to trace Pym's voyage; their own journey will be nearly as difficult as the one whose secret they are trying to cover. But they will find out what happened to Pym; the mystery is linked to a great rock, shaped like a sphinx, with a mysterious power to destroy ships.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Sartwell on Originality

Crispin Sartwell has a good article on How to Be Original:

As a philosopher (ahem) my best-known idea is that knowledge is merely true belief: if you believe x and x is true, then you know it. Before I was escorted out of the room, professors tried to decide whether anyone had taken that position before, exactly. Not since before Plato, maybe, was the verdict, and it’s a damn good thing too. It hit me in my epistemology seminar in grad school, where the professor, Jim Cargile, started with the basic idea that knowledge is justified true belief. “Pretty much everybody agrees on that part,” he said, “though some pragmatists [he pointed at the ceiling, which was the floor of his colleague Richard Rorty’s office] want to delete the truth condition, and make knowledge merely justified belief.”

My hand, ever probing for a hole, shot up. “Has anyone suggested taking out the justification condition, or just defining knowledge as true belief?”

“I don’t think so, or at least not quite that baldly, because the position would be ridiculous and evil.” So then I was off to the races.

In any case, his proposal for how originality works is a good argument for why analysis and classification of real-world philosophical arguments and positions -- one of the major things done by historians of philosophy -- is important for philosophical progress: you cannot see what you are missing until you start seeing that there seems to be a gap in your classifications, and even if the gap turns out to be there because nothing workable can go there, it's sometimes important to know why that gap is a dead spot, rather than just avoiding it because we've always avoided it.

Music on My Mind

Runrig (with Julie Fowlis), "Somewhere".

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Bright as the Dew-Drop on the Brow of Morn

To Mrs. Coltman of Hull,
October 1772,
by Anna Seward

Bright as the dew-drop on the brow of morn,
Fair as the lily by the fountain side,
Sweet as the damask rose-bud, newly born
On verdant banks, where glassy rivers glide,

Thou, Isabella, in the vale of life,
Far from Ambition's paths art charm'd to stray,
Shunning the haunts of pride and envious strife,
Each Muse, each Grace, companions of thy way.

Thy winter's cheerful hearth, thy summer suns,
May attic wit and virtue still adorn!
Brightning thy destin'd hour-glass as it runs,
Crowning thy night with peace, with joy thy morn!

Long may Hygeia lead thee to her springs,
And with full draughts thy glowing lip bedew
And while Prosperity her garland brings,
May nought that blesses bid thee once adieu.