Saturday, August 25, 2018

Descent from Gods and Titans

I've been thinking a bit recently about genealogies that trace families back to gods and titans. Take, for instance, the opening genealogy of the Orkneyinga Saga:

There was a king named Fornjot, he ruled over those lands which are called inland and Kvenland; that is to the east of that bight of the sea which goes northward to meet Gandvik; that we call the Helsingbight. Fornjot had three sons; one was named Hler, whom we call Ægir, the second Logi, the third Kari; he was the father of Frost, the father of Snow the old, his son's name was Thorri; he (Thorri) had two sons, one was named Norr and the other Gorr; his daughter's name was Goi.

Norr and Gorr end up conquering everything, and they split the winnings between them: Norr rules the mainland (hence the name 'Norway'), and Gorr the sea. Gorr the Sea King has two sons, Heiti and Beiti. We then learn that Heiti is the father of Sveiði, who is the father Halfdan the Old, who is the father of Ivar, who is the father of Eystein the Clatterer, who is the father of the wise Earl Rognvald. Rognvald had a son, the Hrolfr who won Normandy, also known as Göngu-Hrólfr (which literally means Walking Rolf, a nickname he supposedly got because he was too big to ride a horse). This Hrolfr is more commonly known as Rollo, who is the great-great-great-grandfather of William the Conqueror. Tracing genealogies back that far always involves a considerable number of assumptions, but Rollo shows up in my family tree multiple times, so I'm at least fairly certainly descended from multiple Norman families who were certain they were descended from Rollo, which is about as far as you can get in talking about genealogical connection to a person in the tenth century.

While the genealogy may look fairly mundane, it is not. Fornjótr, king of Gotland, Kænland and Finnland, is a jötun, a giant. Aegir is the sea; Logi is fire; Kári is wind or storm. These are all explicitly said elswhere. And, of course, Kári's son Frosti (frost) has a son named Snaer (snow), who has a son named Thorri (deep winter or frozen snow). Sacrifices were made to Thorri (or maybe he's invented to explain the sacrifices by that name), and a month shares his name (roughly from mid January to mid February). He's sometimes thought to have originally been Thor, although I've never seen any argument for that beyond the similarity of the names. Gói, the sister of Nórr and Górr, is light snow, and is also the name of a month. With them the divine age is starting to shift into the heroic age, and with Rögnvaldr the Wise, an associate of King Harald Fair-Hair, the age of heroes is morphing into the age of men. So now you know why I'm so awesome; I'm descended from Storm, Frost, Snow, and Winter. Of course, by this point a very large number of people with Norman and Scandinavian roots could say the same; it is no secret that Scandinavians are the children of Snow and Winter.

This descent-from-the-gods is usually explained as an act of propaganda, families trying to establish their legitimacy and so making up something that makes them special. Forging genealogical connections is not unheard of, so I've no doubt that there have been such cases. But if you look at the contexts, this is not a very good explanation of most of the evidence. For one thing, the ones that look most fictional are obviously allegorical; we don't know in exactly what way they originally took them. We tend to think of genealogy as a description of biological descent; it's very clear that this is not the only function genealogy has served. It is arguably not even the primary function of it through most of history; there is some reason at least to think that people often saw genealogy as symbols, as descriptions of themselves. There's some reason, similarly, to think that people are often not just making up the connections, even many of the most fictional ones; they are discovering connections that they think can be plausibly understood as genealogical -- perhaps such-and-such source says that so-and-so went to such-and-such place and married; perhaps a name loosely like so-and-so's runs in a local family there; perhaps they take the speculative connection as sufficiently established for their purposes. Or another case: Everyone, we are told, is descended from Adam; so where's the point at which we most likely connect up to his family tree? It's bound to be somewhere.

There's also remarkably little interest in exclusivity in most cases; there's no attempt to claim that the family in question is the only family to descend from the god, or even that it's the most important. It's rather like visions of past lives, in which everyone turns out to have been Cleopatra. There are lots and lots of families descended from Fornjótr. By the time of the Orkneyinga Saga, being descended from Fornjótr would not have been a rare distinction; if it can be claimed of Rollo in one line, it can be claimed of many people in many different lines. What is more, these genealogies are often serving not to single out families as special but to situate them in a broader scheme of human life. Many of the older examples are pretty clearly not dynastic genealogies but tribal or national genealogies. The kings and nobles are just the eminent examples. Beowulf is not marking out the Scyldings as special Danes; it doesn't make a sharp distinction between Scyldings and non-Scyldings at all. I plausibly have a Frankish noble house or two in my family tree, as well, so I am assured by certain Frankish sources that I am descended from Helenus, son of Priam of Troy, and thus ultimately from Zeus. That's not surprising, though; the really surprising thing would be to find someone with any Frankish ancestors who isn't.

What is more, many of the genealogies we have were not put forward by people who believed in the gods. Jordanes traces the Gothic royal houses to the Aesir; he didn't believe that the Aesir were divine, but the Romans had gods in their genealogy, so why wouldn't Gothic kings? We often have no evidence at all, even indirect, of a descent-from-the-gods genealogy prior to the coming of Christianity; most of them were compiled by Christians from literary sources. And it is notable that the Norse genealogies tend to treat the whole thing in a matter-of-fact way; there's often no attempt to flag the fact that someone is a god or giant unless it matters to the story, and sometimes the genealogist is going well out of his way to make someone not a god. Euhemerist assumptions can partly explain this; but it's hard to shake the feeling that the people put the gods in not because they were gods but because they were old, that it was not special roots but deep ones that mattered. The Norse genealogies sometimes trace families back not only to Norse gods but to Greek ones as well, as if to say to Greek and Roman civilization, "We're not less deeply rooted than you." If you look at how people do genealogy today, something like that idea is occasionally visible. And if that was the idea, they certainly were not wrong to that extent.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Dashed Off XX

This ends the notebook that was completed in April 2017.

Confucianism as a civil religion of good citizenship (Gu Hongming)

Every sacrament exhibits the principle of 'the truth is made present in its similitude', but each in a different way.

'probability' in Treatise is about belief
(1) the need for checking
(2) the limits of checking
(3) 'knowledge degenerates into probability', from (1) and (2) with rationalist account of knowledge and belief
(4) promiscuous need for checking
(5) 'total extinction of belief' from (3) and (4)
(6) total extinction of belief impossible by nature
(7) Therefore the rationalist account of knowledge and belief is false.

incompleteness theorems as indicators of analogical predication (likewise mathematical hierarchies, likewise nonunivocal but obviously linked uses of terms like 'number' and 'addition' in different fields)

Consent is too often conflated with cooperation, for which it is only the most general precondition.

While probabilities may be part of our body of evidence, we do not in general assess probabilities in assessing evidence. Instead, we usually (a) look at what the evidence seems to say about the world, which involves a kind of extrapolation or simulation given the evidence, and (b) look for indicators of trustworthiness in what it says.

A body of evidence is a symbol (in Peirce's sense) consisting of an iconic sign of the world and indexical signs concerning the relation of that sign to its object.

One is a saint in the measure to which every moment of one's life is described in its disposition by the Lord's prayer.

- the need for a ritual/liturgical/sacramental sociology analogous to a moral sociology

A study of American constitutional law is a study of American history.

philosophy of art as an organon of philosophy (cp. Schelling)

The state is a means to the development of human life, not the end of that development.

Human life must be aesthetic, ethical, and religious all at once.

Note the bizarre tendency of people to treat 'imposed a rule on oneself to prevent a problem' as a sign of lack of willpower (see, e.g., people's reactions to the Graham Rule). This is a fruitful point for considering subversions of temperance in our society.

part-contiguity & part-continuity (distinction in terms of whether boundaries are distinct or shared)

stage theory // occasionalism

(1) through failure of the knower's power to know
(1.1) in itself
(1.1.1) deficiency (enduring)
(1.1.2) weakness (temporary)
(1.2) in its means and instruments
(1.2.1) inadequacy of means (cause privative)
(1.2.2) impediment (cause positive)
(2) through failure of the known
(2.1) contradiction/incoherence
(2.2) inconsistency with the conditions of the knower

A Bolzano-influenced argument against semiotic rationalism.
(1) Signs require intention for any kind of use.
(2) Either this intention is mine or an intention I recognize others to have.
(3) In both, judgments are required.
(4) Therefore judgments must precede both invention and reception of signs.

monstrousness as semi-absurdity in ethics (presumptive absurdity)

Deliberative government requires self-review checkpoints for consistent action in high-stress situations -- that is, points at which deliberation can be paused and/or set aside for a better time -- points of reasonable delay.

Sacramentals are actions by which the Church intercedes for effects, especially spiritual effects, and the objects materially used in these actions, which are related to the sacraments.

integral parts of the sacrament: minister, matter, form, end of institution
subjective parts of sacrament: mode of sacraments in different rites, also distinction of emergency vs proper/perfect
potential parts: sacramentalia

devotional sacramentalia (get their value from devotional association with the sacraments) vs. impetratory sacramentalia (get their value from the intercession of the Church)
-- might perhaps be better to see this as two dimensions along which sacramentalia variably fall

the sacramentalia as expressions of God's favor to the Church, and thus of the dignity of the Church

If you couldn't get Ought from Is, then learning a new Is would not itself ever have any implications for reasonable behavior.

Every truth has a speculative face and a practical face.

"The nuptial union then is the law of nature, the foundation of human society, and it necessarily superinduces to the law of self-government, the law of family of government...." John Quincy Adams
-- Note that this ends up being quite strong in his view -- the civil association arises not out of individual consensus but out of consensus of families, each family having but one vote.

"Just as water reflects the face, so one human heart reflects another." Pr 27:19

Classify enough things and you will eventually discover something significant.

Sincerity carries an intrinsic power of oratory.

Utilitarianism in practice is reductionism about public interest/common good/public good/mutual benefit. Nothing really requires this -- arguably Bentham, of all people, manages to avoid it, although it is precisely an aspect of his approach that later utilitarians have treated as incoherent. But it is not surprising either -- although the fact that it generally goes unnoticed is.

In assessing whether an action is proportional, we (rightly) assess three things, not one:
(1) whether it is the kind of thing that can achieve a reasonable end.
(2) whether it is done in a way that fits the conditions of a reasonable end.
(3) whether it is done in a measure that befits a reasonable end.

There is no forgiveness without sacrifice.

Part of genius is ardor.

To frame good philosophical reasoning in good poetry, one must first step back from the former to see it in one insight, and then one must sensibly express the insight. It is not an easy task!

Santayana's Three Philosophical Poets could just as easily be called 'Three Kinds of Honesty'.

One weakness of Peirce's account of signs is not including reduplication. Its functions are partly handled by the interpretant, but not as reduplicative. Arguably this is why Peirce ends up having to proliferate classifications.

heroic virtues as virtues in a life of grace and prayer

When we reflect on our mind, we do not find a bundle of perceptions, but perception; getting the bundle, or indeed the plural perceptions, requires a particular kind of causal analysis.

"the practice of temperance varies according to different times...and according to different human laws and customs." ST 2-2.170.1ad3

the Lord's Prayer as a school of humility (Dante)

The theme of the Purgatorio: we are free to repent, which is the restoration of love to its natural character, and this repentance sparks true friendship to life and ennobles it.

Marriage is not an expression of the sexual, but the rational form of life that includes the sexual.

All discussion of possibilities involves abstraction, so modifying an account of abstract ideas, or rejecting them altogether, inevitably affects what can be said about possibility.

Berkeley's view of the mind is primarily of the will rather than the intellect; in a sense notions are acts of will. This is worth considering more broadly.

the sign-structure of devotions: we devote ourselves to something as the locus or sign of something, insofar as the one manifests the other under some aspect (the devotional interpretant)

In practice people treat testimony in the absence of a defeater as a more powerful kind of evidence than personal experience.

People often confuse 'a question can be raised' with 'a doubt has been established'.

(1) Christianity had a swift propagation, the essential shape of which is known.
(2) This advance is of a kind that it would be explained by the truth of Christianity.
(3) Explanations of the fact based on the supposition that Christianity is false, e.g., by imposture and gullibility, are inadequate to capture the effectiveness of the propagation.
-- A problem with the imposture explanation is that while it sounds plausible and simple at the general level, when one looks at specifics, it requires an immense number of successful impostures, not all of which are simple or plausible.

acting-pleasure, satisfaction-pleasure, fulfillment-pleasure

index, icon, and symbol as a division of signs insofar as related to instrument of signification (based on the manner in which the instrument signifies)

Emphasis on miracles, prophecy, inspiration of Scripture in modern apologetics is heavily reactional; i.e., they would have a place but not the emphasis they do except for what opponents of Christianity emphasize.

(1) analogy of nature and system of miracles
(2) analogy of nature and system of sacraments

the sacraments as infusions of divine civilization

Every human person, in his relations to other persons, serves as a symbol.

As a model of character, Jesus has an unusual catholicity of appeal for a peasant from a backwater province as presented by a ragtag bunch of peasants from a backwater province. (Although, to be sure, it is possible to exaggerate both the catholicity and the backwater.)

Sacred doctrine acts like a lens, bringing certain philosophically discoverable truths into greater clarity and focus.

Christianity is very much a semiotic religion.

Job (dialogue), Ecclesiastes (soliloquy), Proverbs and Sirach (counsels), Wisdom (treatise), Psalms and Song (poetic meditation)

autograph originalist inerrantism about Scripture // deism

Understanding defective causes requires understanding conserving causes.

The imposition of names is not purely arbitrary, and thus a name widely recognized raises a defeasible appearance of appropriateness.

Antiquity of institution continually preserved indicates a durability suggestive of truth.

People regularly say things of the idea of space that are only true of the idea of the possibility of extension, likewise with the idea of time and the idea of the possibility of succession.

the blending operation of the imagination (note that this is stronger than recombination)

Axioms clearly may be understood more or less well by different people, or by people at different stages of learning, and therefore they are not, as found in human reasoning, static things, but refinable in formulation and admitting of degrees of clarity.

Neoplatonism has done is well for the uses of theology because it can work at the level of terms and at the level of civilizational schemes.

the Divided Line and the structure of meaning in every term

Overwhelming and enduring factional dominance breeds corruption.

infused virtue | associated frequent practice
prudence | spiritual reading/reflection
justice | vocational duties
fortitude | confession
temperance | communion

polemic by grignotage (typically an approach of those in a weak position, or with severe resource limitations)

Erasure of the past is often a way of pretending to a righteousness or rationality one does not have -- one removes possible points of comparison.

Mathematicians make their hypotheses on two primary grounds: analogy (structural) and induction (ordinary rather than mathematical, i.e., by looking at what is commonly found in a bunch of cases).

The advance of physics has, overall, expanded what is to be recognized as in-principle possible; discoveries have widened general horizons faster than they have refuted particular possibilities.

a priori and a posteriori, if taken to refer to (in)dependence from experience, are relative categories -- nothing prevents something from being both in different ways. (The same is true of older logical senses.)

simultaneity // co-location

That sentences describe things, or ideas have objects, is a relation of facts (or ideas and facts), not a relation of ideas nor a matter of fact. All semiotic relations can only be placed on one side or the other by gerrymandering (or by collapsing the distinction). The same is true of causal and constitutive relations of things: they are intrinsic relations of things.

The problem of induction is usually put in terms of past and future, but it arises from doubt about inference from actual to necessary.

R. Morehead takes universals to be design, but one could go the opposite direction and convert design arguments into arguments about universals.

Much of what Plato's Socrates says about ignorance makes sense if you take it to be a sort of persuasibility.

Permissibility is always conditional, even if the conditions are sometimes very general.

Atheistic arguments from evil require that the relevant moral principles, as understood and formulated by us, are not only true enough for our purposes but so perfect that even an omniscient being could not do better.

possible, being
intelligible, true
valuable, good
integrable, one?

To get a probability requires using a possibility to measure a possibility.

"Even in the world a friend can make satisfaction for a friend." Aquinas

Conditionalizing what counts as reasonable discourse on agreement of people, independently of considering whether those people are being reasonable by some prior standard, is an absurd and inevitably fatal move -- it holds discourse hostage to the obstinate and strategically unreasonable.

No community completely determines itself; there are always prior elements on which it depends.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Two Poem Drafts

Boat of Flowers

In brightly rainbowed boat
with fields of flowers strewn,
abundant like the joy
with which I wait your face,
I stand. O Naiad, guard
my love until the dawn
and bring us eye to eye.

My boat in lively hues
is covered bright with blooms.
I wait; my love returns
on fair and hopeful morn.
O ancient of the deep,
give speed to homeward sails
and turn my day to joy!


In hell all art is short,
all time is long,
and deadly is our death:
it mortifies.
The stone will fall again,
the waters sink,
the iron vultures gnaw,
and, out of reach,
the apples waft away,
but worst of all
is rankling feel of time
as mercy's gift --
you feel the debt you owe,
the hours endured,
and always do the right,
and do it well,
whatever you may will,
like burdened beast.
For vice's greatest pain
is reign of good.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

How to Do Things with Rites

Were someone to ask me to make a recommendation for the most important works in analytic philosophy -- not just interesting, not just innovative, but real candidates for the works of analytic philosophy that people will likely take to be important even a hundred years from now, both as influences and as works in their own right -- I would only have three. And one of those would be J. L. Austin's How to Do Things with Words. (The others would be Kripke's Naming and Necessity and Anscombe's Intention. This is not, of course, to say that there aren't other works that are well worth reading.) But it's worth recognizing that Austin is doing more in the work than someone might at first think.

The essential idea of How to Do Things with Words is that understanding a considerable part of our communication depends on regarding it not as description-like (constative) but as a a practical action (performative). There are statements that require this kind of treatment. For instance, if I say, "I hereby undertake to pay all your bills," I'm not just describing something, I am using these words to do something. To explore how this works, Austin looks at ways in which you can fail to do something with performatives. If you can fail, that means that some condition for success was not met, and by collecting the conditions for success you get a profile of what these performatives are. These conditions for success are called 'felicity conditions'. Austin proposes six of them; he regards them as in some sense exhaustive, but in working them out recognizes that they don't all work the same way.

(A.1) There must exist an accepted conventional procedure having a certain conventional effect, that procedure to include the uttering of certain words by certain persons in certain circumstances, and further,
(A.2) the particular persons and circumstances in a given case must be appropriate for the invocation of the particular procedure invoked.
(B.1) The procedure must be executed by all participants both correctly and
(B.2) completely.
(Γ.1) Where, as often, the procedure is designed for use by persons having certain thoughts or feelings, or for the inauguration of certain consequential conduct on the part of any participant, then a person participating in and so invoking the procedure must in fact have those thoughts or feelings, and the participants must intend so to conduct themselves, and further
(Γ.2) must actually so conduct themselves subsequently.
[ J. L. Austin, How to Do Things with Words, 2nd edition, Urmson and Sbisà, eds., Harvard UP (Cambridge MA: 1975) pp. 14-15.]

In a sense A and B rules have to do with the esse of the performative and Γ rules with the bene esse, so I'll set aside Γ, at least mostly, for now. (There's a reason Austin gives it a Greek letter to mark it off from the others.)

So let's take an example. I smash a bottle on a ship and say, "I name this ship such-and-such." We have a conventional procedure here -- ship christening -- and a conventional effect -- ship gets a name -- which requires people saying something in a certain role in certain circumstances. That's (A.1). Now, for a ship christening actually to succeed, I have to be the right kind of person doing this in the right circumstances -- I can't just be a random person going around smashing bottles on ships, and if for some reason we were just rehearsing, obviously I didn't actually christen the ship, any more than you get married at the wedding rehearsal. That's (A.2). The ship christening could also fail, and need to be redone, if I somehow did it wrong (B.1) or if I were interrupted (B.2).

Austin therefore gives us a taxonomy of failure (and thus negatively of success), and proposes, tentatively, some names for each kind. One possible way of doing it that mixes and matches from his various suggestions is this:

A & B: Misfires (act purported but void)
A: Misinvocations
A.1: Non-plays
A.2: Misapplications or Misplays
B: Misexecutions or Miscarriages
B.1 Flaws
B.2 Hitches or Non-executions
Γ: Abuses (acts professed but hollow)
Γ.1: Dissimulations
Γ.2: Breaches

But it probably doesn't hugely matter what you call them, as long as you know what condition is violated.

Austin is not just exploring an idea in language, though; these six, with perhaps minor modification at times, are found for all sorts of ceremonies and rites. (Austin himself notes this.) And indeed, one way to understand Austin's argument is to understand it as an argument for the importance of the ritual aspect of language. He will even sometimes talk about rites instead of 'conventions' in discussing the issues with regard to (A.1). And any kind of communicative ritual will be describable in Austin's terms. Thus you can apply this kind of thinking to rituals like sacraments. Nor is this surprising; if you look at his examples, it is pretty clear that a lot of his thought on this subject is based on reflecting on (Anglican) rituals and sacraments in the first place -- baptism and marriage being the primary ones. And Catholic sacraments properly done fulfill all six felicity conditions.

And by the same token, one can fail at them in ways analogous to failing at promising, or betting, or ceremonial naming, or any of the many other performatives at which one can fail. Austin's A-type failures are in the cases of sacraments causes of invalidity. So for instance, one can purport to be ordaining someone but fail because you make up your own right (violating A.1) or because you do not have the authority of a bishop (violating A.2). Someone who baptizes "In the name of the Creator, the Redeemer, and the Sanctifier" has failed to baptize; they violated A.1. Someone trying to ordain a woman as a Catholic priest has failed; they are violating A.2. Someone trying to marry two people of the same sex in a Catholic marriage have violated A.2. And so on and so forth.

B.1 failures in the case of sacraments can also be causes of invalidity, although perhaps not -- it depends on how the error effects what's essential to the sacrament. This is something that has had extensive discussion over the centuries. One that comes to mind is the case of the priest who's ignorant of Latin trying to baptize "In nomine patris et filiae et spiritus sanctus". The 'filae' makes it invalid (because 'filiae' can only mean 'of the Daughter'), whereas there's a very good argument that the 'spiritus sanctus' on its own does not (because there's nothing else it could mean in context except 'of the Holy Spirit'). Both are wrong, but the former error changes something essential, wrecking the sacrament, whereas the latter is arguably just bad grammar. If the priest saying the Mass in English says, without realizing it, "This is body my", he did it wrong, but no one need be distressed about whether it is valid. Priests (unfortunately) often don't say the words of absolution correctly in the sacrament of reconciliation; while this is not a great thing, it doesn't automatically make it sacramentally invalid.

B.2 failures can also be causes of invalidity. They certainly make it so that the sacrament is not valid, but sometimes (we might say) they only make it 'nonvalid' rather than 'invalid'. If a priest said the Mass, and having raised the host begins the words of institution, "Th--" but at that moment collapses or is shot and never finishes, there is no valid eucharist even though he didn't actually do anything invalid or wrong -- it just never got finished. On the other hand, if he just skips the words of institution, this is very definitely wrong and invalid.

Γ failures, of course, do not affect validity; they are failures in doing the sacraments worthily. (It is a common error to think that sacraments can automatically be invalidated by secretly redirecting your intent; this confuses 'intent' or 'intention' in the modern sense with 'intention' in the scholastic sense, which means the disposition of the act to an end. If the conditions for the act are as they should be and the act is done so as to communicate doing what the Church does, there is nothing wrong with the act itself, although you may be doing it in a bad spirit.)

A complication is that in the case of sacraments we are always evaluating at three different levels -- what's essential to the sacrament, what's in accordance with the rules and laws meant to protect the sacrament, and what's in accordance with morals given the sacrament. One has the same kind of errors, it's just we sometimes want to make a distinction between an A.2 violation that makes the sacrament invalid and an A.2 violation that may or may not make it invalid but is still out of bounds -- or illicit, as we often say.

An implication of all this is that discussions of validity and invalidity, licitness and illicitness, in the sacraments are not arcane legalisms; they are discussions of facts about actions -- whether you actually performed the action, correctly and completely, as it should be done. There's a real fact of the matter, even if there are cases that are difficult to evaluate or need further clarification. Likewise, they aren't weird. You get exactly the same issues, adapting to the differences in actions, whenever you deal with any kind of ritual or communicative action. And what is more, it is not trivial. Take, for instance, an apology: you can fail in an apology if you don't actually do anything that people could take as an apology (A.1), or if you don't apologize to the person to whom you should actually be apologizing (A.2), or if you mangle it too badly (B.1) or break off (B.2), or if your apology is a lie (Γ.1 and Γ.2). And it matters, because apology matters. So too with every other kind of ritual.

Voyages Extraordinaires #21: La Jangada

"P h y j s l y d d q f d z x g a s g z z q q e h x g k f n d r x u j u g I o c y t d x v k s b x h h u y p o h d v y r y m h u h p u y d k j o x p h e t o z l s l e t n p m v f f o v p d p a j x h y y n o j y g g a y m e q y n f u q l n m v l y f g s u z m q I z t l b q q y u g s q e u b v n r c r e d g r u z b l r m x y u h q h p z d r r g c r o h e p q x u f I v v r p l p h o n t h v d d q f h q s n t z h h h n f e p m q k y u u e x k t o g z g k y u u m f v I j d q d p z j q s y k r p l x h x q r y m v k l o h h h o t o z v d k s p p s u v j h d."

The man who held in his hand the document of which this strange assemblage of letters formed the concluding paragraph remained for some moments lost in thought.

A jangada is usually a fishing boat in Brazil, but Verne uses it to refer to a raft, large enough to carry some small cabins and a chapel, which is used by the protagonists to float down the Amazon River -- thus the title La Jangada, or the usual titles in English, The Giant Raft and (based on the French subtitle) Eight Hundred Leagues on the Amazon. Joam Garral is taking his family from just over the Peruvian border to Belém so that his daughter can marry her fiancee in the presence of his invalid mother. Joam, however, is wanted in Brazil for a serious crime he did not commit, and when he is arrested, the race is on to find proof of his innocence before his execution, in a mystery that depends on the physics of floating corpses, the solution to a cryptogram, and a few decent men trying to see that justice is done.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

A Quick Trip to Scotland, Miscellanea VI

Western Highlands

Loch Lomond:

Glen Croe:

Inveraray Castle at Loch Fyne:

Kilchurn Castle at Loch Awe:


Castle Stalker:

Glen Coe:

Loch Tulla:

Back to Loch Lomond:

Glasgow: George Square

Monday, August 20, 2018

Mellifluous Doctor

Today is the feast of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Doctor of the Church. He was the scion of an important noble family in Burgundy; his father was lord of Fontaine-lès-Dijon. After the death of his mother, Bernard entered the Cistercian Order. After three years, the community at Cîteaux had grown so quickly under the administration of St. Stephen Harding that Bernard and twelve others were sent to found another monastery at Vallée d'Absinthe, which they renamed Claire Vallée, whence 'Clairvaux' is derived. Bernard was overeager; the rules he put into place were very strict and he nearly destroyed his health from ascetic discipline, but he eventually found a somewhat better balance that preserved the high standards for which he had hoped, and the monastery grew very rapidly. He attempted to live a quiet monastic life, but events kept forcing him into public confrontations (for which he was occasionally attacked and reprimanded as a meddlesome monk), and his reputation eventually grew enough that he was repeatedly drafted for various ecclesiastical missions. He died on August 20, 1153, and was buried at Clairvaux Abbey; when the Abbey was dissolved in the French Revolution, his remains were moved to Troyes.

From one of his letters:

Thus understanding and love, that is, the knowledge of and delight in the truth, are, perhaps, as it were, the two arms of the soul, with which it embraces and comprehends with all saints the length and breadth, the height and depth, that is the eternity, the love, the goodness, and the wisdom of God. And what are all these but Christ? He is eternity, because “this is life eternal to know Thee the true God and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent" (S. John xvii. 3). He is Love, because He is God, and God is Love (1 S. John iv. 16). He is both the Goodness of God and the Wisdom of God (I Cor. i. 24), but when shall these things be? When shall we see Him as He is? For the expectation of the creature waiteth for the revelation of the sons of God. For the creature was subjected unto vanity, not willingly (Rom. viii. 19, 20). It is that vanity diffused through all which makes us desire to be praised even when we are blameable, and not to be willing to praise those whom we know to be worthy of it. But this too is vain, that we, in our ignorance, frequently praise what is not, and are silent about what is. What shall we say to this, but that the children of men are vain, the children of men are deceitful upon the weights, so that they deceive each other by vanity (Ps. lxi. 9; lxx.). We praise falsely, and are foolishly pleased, so that they are vain who are praised, and they false who praise. Some flatter and are deceptive, others praise what they think deserving, and are deceived; others pride themselves in the commendations which are addressed to them, and are vain. The only wise man is he who says with the Apostle: I forbear, lest any man should think of me above that which he seeth me to be or that he heareth of me (2 Cor. xii. 6).

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Fortnightly Book, August 19

The next two books continue this year's reading of Jules Verne: The Mighty Orinoco and Invasion of the Sea. Thematically they do not, as far as I know, have much to do with each other -- one is about a river journey in a rainforest and the other about an engineering project in the desert -- but they do share two things: they are both fairly late in the Voyages extraordinaires (#45 and #54 respectively), and they have only fairly recently received any kind of good English translation, in Wesleyan University Press's Early Classics of Science Fiction series.

The Mighty Orinoco, first published in 1898, is about Jean, who is searching for a vanished father; a quest that, of course, takes Jean on a journey up the Orinoco River of Venezuela. Verne connects this geographical structure with a geographical question in some dispute at the time, connected to the question of the sources of the river -- Does the Orinoco originally flow east to west or from the southwest? But there is more to Jean than meets the eye; people are not always as they seem to be. The translation is by Stanford Luce, with notes by Walter James Miller.

Invasion of the Sea, the last of the Voyages extraordinaires finished and published by Verne in his lifetime, is a rare Verne novel that is deliberately and explicitly futuristic in both chronology and technology; published in 1905, it takes place in the 1930s. It describes a conflict that arises between the French, who want to create an inland sea in the Sahara, and the Tuareg Berbers, who regard the project as a threat to their existence. Like a number of later works, it contrasts the ultimate irresistibility of nature with the tenuous nature of our conquest of it. It is translated by Edward Baxter, with notes by Arthur B. Evans.