Sunday, May 26, 2019

Charles Williams, Shadows of Ecstasy; The Greater Trumps


Opening Passages: From Shadows of Ecstasy:

Roger Ingram's peroration broke over the silent dining hall: "He and such as he are one with the great conquerors, the great scientists, the great poets; they have all of them cried of the unknown: 'I will encounter darkness as a bride, And hug it in mine arms.'" (p. 465)

From The Greater Trumps:

"...perfect Babel," Mr. Coningsby said peevishly, threw himself into a chair, and too up the evening paper."

"But Babel never was perfect, was it?" Nancy said to her brother in a low voice, yet not so low that her father could not hear if he chose. (p. 605)

Summary: In Shadows, Nigel Considine has discovered the ability to concentrate his energy so thoroughly that he can impose his will on others and influence their minds. With this power, and as representative of the 'schools' of African witchcraft, he has united African tribes against the colonial powers of Europe, threatens to start a new world order, and perhaps has overcome the power of death. Standing against him are mostly just a completely unexceptional Anglican priest, a good-natured skeptic and free thinker, and a Zulu king who has been rendered powerless by Considine's manipulations -- a weak and makeshift and somewhat unconvincing alliance of priest, prophet, and king against Considine. And who is Considine, really?

The best character in the novel is the Zulu king, Inkamasi, who gets remarkably little time given his overall importance. A true king, he is a convincing depiction of the charisma of kingship, even though he does not have the self-possession required to resist Considine's juggernaut energy. He has several of the best lines, and the reaction of other characters to him tells us more about them than about anything else. Of particular note is Rosamond, who is overwhelmed by Inkamasi's charisma, and in some sense falls in love, but reacts very poorly to him due to her prejudices about his black skin, which are shown to be quite common among the English throughout the story.

The novel is essentially a Fu Manchu story, but with Africa -- indeed, I've heard a story, which may be apocryphal (in the association with this novel in particular; the story itself comes from Williams), that Williams read one of Rohmer's novels, said, "I could do better than that," and wrote Shadows. There is a notable difference between the two, though. Fu Manchu, while in part Western-educated, is Chinese; Considine, while African-educated, is English. In the novel the colonized nations of Africa rise up against the colonizers with an apparently unstoppable force; but this uprising is itself the result of Considine, with the help of the 'schools', overthrowing, subverting, or dominating the legitimate rulers of Africa. What the colonial powers of Europe see only as the Black Peril turns out to be -- an Englishman's conquest of Africa.

It is but one of many ambiguities in this strangely ambiguous novel, which has no hard lines, only opposing perspectives. And perhaps that is part of the point. The story is about the nature of power, which, as it is found among us, is inevitably ambiguous. If you only see power, you will never get more than ambiguity.

With The Greater Trumps, Williams seems to hit his stride as a novelist; in some ways it is the most cleanly structure of his books, and we start getting more realistic characters given more realistic characterization, without any sacrifice of the more Williams-ish aspects. Technically, it works very well and I think the description of the snowstorm is some of Williams's most impressive descriptive work. I think it ends up being somewhere in the middle of Williams's novels in terms of quality, however; novelistic techniques are employed better in the later novels, and The Place of the Lion's portmanteau Neoplatonism is a far richer source of theme and imagery of the Williams-ish side than the Tarot are or could be. I had noted that the latter's Neoplatonism also helps to give an appropriate context for Williams's tendency to describe things in terms of abstractions, one in which that abstracting makes perfect sense; that's missing here, and the lack is sometimes felt. Nonetheless, there is much that is engaging about the work.

Nancy Coningsby is likely to marry Henry Lee, not entirely to the approval of her father, Lothair Coningsby, because Henry is gypsy and Mr. Coningsby has a prejudice against gypsies. Mr. Coningsby has recently inherited a friend's collection of card decks (a very disappointing inheritance), but Henry discovers that one of these decks of cards is the deck of cards, the Tarot pack that tracks and manipulates the underlying order of the world. This Tarot pack does this because it is linked to a collection of moving images that were created by someone attempting to capture an image of that underlying order; this collection Henry's family has been protecting. The lesser suits of the Tarot pack track, and give power, over the material elements of the world; the higher suits give these elements forms, and the Greater Trumps are the ultimate principles of the whole world-order. Misusing them will inevitably lead to grave consequences, and setting things right requires uncovering something about the card that both is and is not a Greater Trump, the zero card, The Fool, which is linked to the central image that does not move and yet is everywhere in the dance of images.

The story takes place at Christmas, and this is quite important, although some parts of this thread are the weakest parts of the novel. There is a recurring phrase, "adore the mystery of love", from John Byrom's Christmas hymn, "Christians, Awake":

Christians, awake, salute the happy morn
Whereon the Savior of the world was born.
Rise to adore the mystery of love
Which hosts of angels chanted from above;
With them the joyful tidings first begun
Of God Incarnate and the Virgin's Son.

And Joanna, the crazy relative of the Lees who thinks that she is the goddess Isis, finds the 'child' she has been looking for in Nancy, who is sort of the 'Messias' for the events of the story. But the Christmas side of it is not as well developed as it could be, I think. I think we run into the problem that Williams, again, likes to talk about important things in abstractions, and Christmas is, of all holy days, the one that is less amenable to this sort of abstracting; it is not about abstractions but about Mother and Child (the Mother and the Child). The Egyptian mythology aspect to it, which links the Tarot, traditionally said to capture Egyptian wisdom, with the gypsies, who get their name according to folk etymology from Egypt, works much, much better; the myth of Isis even fits better with Christmas than anything the novel does with Christmas itself. This is the second time I've read the novel, and I'm still not entirely sure where Williams was going with the Christmas angle.

I confess I didn't like some of the characters so much in this novel, either, although Mr. Coningsby really grew on me; I suppose I also find it amusing that Mr. Coningsby, the representation of rational intellect in this work, is a peevish, obstinate, and unimaginative person who has difficulty understanding anything that is going on and who keeps wanting to deliver witty retorts but suffers from perpetual esprit d'escalier. I also like that nobody hates him for any of this; it's just who he is as a member of the family. Nancy and Henry aren't bad, but I didn't really get them as The Lovers, and Sybil is sometimes excellent and sometimes just dull. But the story itself is probably the most 'exciting' of Williams's stories -- it's a story where a lot of interesting things happen, and it has some of Williams's best descriptive work.

Favorite Passages: From Shadows of Ecstasy:

"If you can seize Considine," the king said, -- "I say, if you can -- it will not be easy. For the greatest energy is in him, he and he alone is the centre of all the schools; it is he who holds power, either by the initiation or by the sleep, over the royalties of Africa; he is the union of their armies; without him the energies of the adepts will be divided, the generals will quarrel, the armies will fight. I tell you this, because you have saved me twice, and because I do not think mankind can be saved without intellect and without God." (p. 532)

From The Greater Trumps:

The cry shook the golden light; it vanished. Amabel, gazing, saw Miss Coningsby in the hall and the old woman lying in a heap at the foot of the stairs, and before she had time to move she saw the other visitors coming flying down them. They cam very swiftly but as if they also came in order; the lovers first, still hand in hand, and after them Mr. Coningsby, still anxiously watching Nancy, and thinking as fast as he could that he must keep in touch with her, whatever happened. And after him again came Ralph and Stephen, distracted from their mutual hostility, but with all their strength ready and vigilant. The three great orders of grace and intellect and corporeal strength, in those immature servants of their separate degrees, gathered round the place where Sybil kneeled by Joanna, and the search within and the search without were joined. (p. 748)

Recommendation: Recommended, although neither is Williams at his strongest.


Charles Williams, Charles Williams Omnibus, Oxford City Press (Oxford: 2012).
Posted by Brandon at 6:08 PM

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Beda Venerabilis

Today is the feast of St. Beda, also known as the Venerable Bede, Doctor of the Church.

The Pelagians were unwilling to believe that the whole mass of the human race was corrupted and condemned in one man. It is the grace of Christ alone that cures and frees from this corruption and condemnation. For why will the righteous be saved with difficulty? Is it a labor for God to set free the righteous? Far from it. But to show that [our] nature was rightly condemned the Omnipotent himself does not wish to set [us] free easily from so great an evil, because sins are easy to slip into and righteousness is strenuous, except for those who love; but charity, which makes them lovers, is of God.

[Bede, Commentary on the Seven Catholic Epistles, Cistercian Press (Kalamazoo, MI: 1985), p. 113.He is commenting on 1 Peter 4:18.]

Friday, May 24, 2019

Dashed Off X

This ends the notebook completed April 11, 2018.

photography & the decisive moment (Henri Cartier-Bresson)
- candid photography and images à la sauvette
- 'Il n'y a rien dans ce monde qui n'ait un moment decisif.' (Cardinal de Retz)
- "Photographier: c'est dans un même instant et en une fraction de seconde reconnaître un fait et l'organisation rigoreuse de formes perçues visuellement qui expriment et signifient ce fait." (Cartier-Bresson)
- the 'creative fraction of a second' in choosing the time to click the camera

"Error always begins with the use of our will." Rosmini

Occasionalism naturally slides toward idealism because (1) it complicates the relation between mind and world and (2) already treats the world as if it worked like a mind.

Perhaps the principle of union for Purgatory is not receiving signs (sacraments) but receiving being a sign.

Asceticism is proto-purgatory; thus the elements of asceticism linked to 'being like the angels' are clues about what purgatory is like.

Cp Adams on self-delusion 29 Aug 1768 with Butler

"Without local institutions, a nation may give itself a free government, but it will not have a free spirit." Tocqueville

the people as a civil service

To confine the monarch too much to the merely ceremonial leaves the Crown looking like a decorative expense, even if the ceremonial functions are, in fact, necessary.

A supreme court's primary function is not to decide but to persuade -- to give a widely acceptable set of reasons for a certain way of organizing society, in a form to which people may practically appeal.

"All the passions fatal to republics increase with the extent of the republic, while the virtues that sustain them do not increase at the same rate." Tocqueville
"An idea that is clear and precise even though false will always have greater power in the world than an idea that is true but complex."
"Despotism often presents itself as the remedy for all ills suffered in the past. It is the upholder of justice, the champion of the oppressed, and the founder of order....Liberty, in contrast, is usually born in stormy times."
"Despotism can do without faith, but liberty cannot."

"The jury teaches men the practice of equity." Tocqueville
"...the jury, which is the most energetic form of popular rule, is also the most effective means of teaching the people how to rule."

Standing parties are as dangerous to liberty as standing armies.

Fregean tone as reserve meaning

"A completed poetic action is a whole unto itself, a technical world." Schlegel

I like my ideas to jumble, intermingle, tumble,
thick as sprouting jungle

interjections as labeling

Note Republic 475e on the spectacle of truth // Bendideia

Photography is not a bare picture-taking event but a practice of finding, pre-selecting, taking, post-selecting, presenting.

Social contract theory inevitably leads to the sovereign citizens movement (taking every matter to be one of individual consent).

State Shinto was proposed in Meiji as an education form based on the tradition of the Imperial house, as something explicitly distinct from religions like Buddhism or Christianity. (Note that PropFi accepted this explanation even despite some points at which it functioned more like a religion.)

Kant confuses 'end in itself' with 'end from itself', in se and a se.

laity as spiritual militia

Kant's ethics is an ethics of avoiding slippery slopes.

Slippery slope arguments are not about slopes so much as about principles.

Hutcheson recommends a tax for not being married, as well as mandatory military service (apparently for eight years).

Aristotle gives us the word 'monopoly': Politics 1252a.

pusillanimity as "the Want of a just Indignation against Wrong" (David Fordyce)

We can think of the passions as vectors extending out and ask, "Is there something that can be posited as the point, or at least the region, on which all of these converge?" In an irrational life, the answer is no (think of the many-headed monster in the Republic); in a rational life, the answer is yes, and the region is called eudaimonia.

Fordyce EMPp65: number, weight, measure

the three caves of Empire Strikes Back

Attacks on cultural appropriation tend toward the extinction of the cultural elements they are supposed to protect, like bottlenecking an already shaky population.

Tensive and restive modes of emotional mediation of experience make different things salient.

the modes of Holy Saturday: rest, victory, eternity

Science fiction works by overlay.

Genres are genealogical and governed by a principle of precedent.

world-building extrapolation and future-building extrapolation

The kind of good there may be depends on the kind of beings there may be.

Anything that did the work of 'credences' would have to be inquiry-relative.
- probabilities are relative to method of measurement
- would also follow from a broadly Lewisian approach to Sleeping Beauty and the recognition that what counts as evidence is inquiry-relative

three kinds of tolerance: based on common good, based on negotiation, based on functional good

Under socialism, those who produce social benefit do not have full right over the means of its production; they must trade their labor for it, for their freedom and livelihood, as protection fees to the state, which legislates the alienation of their work to subserve the benefit-preferences of those who control the state.

the occasional causes of error: likeness and inclination

"Where there is devotional music, God with his grace is always present." Bach (annotaiton in Calov)

If logic is only about the way one says things, one may change the logic just by changing one's manner of speaking. If it just involves rules for signs, one may make it anything one wants just by changing the kinds of signs.

(1) well-poisoning
(2) option-biasing
--- (a) example (cherry-picking)
--- (b) division
--- --- (1) incomplete division
--- --- (2) misclassifying division
--- (c) description

option-biasing by division, by implicature, by translation
insinuated allusion corrosive to fair assessment

Rule of law rather than men means, at least, that citizens should not be mere suppliants, in the normal course of society.

The difference between an academic and everyone else is primarily infrastructural.

probable inference as inference from premises plus residual (yet to be specified)

Appearance-as always implies resemblance.

the pleaching of cultures

test-balloon believing & doxastic voluntarism

sophistry as a confusion of argumentative true good with argumentative goods of fortune

internal sense theory as a way of organizing everyday aesthetic concepts (e.g., messiness and neatness with order, mind-blowingness with sublimity, etc.)

The modal logic of laws of nature seems often to be treated as an M/T or higher logic, Box implying True. But (cf. Cartwright) idealization seems to make them D or weaker.
-- a related issue is how one would handle strings of operators, laws of laws

Otium sine litteris mors.

The Virgin's submission at the Annunciation parallels Christ's submission in Gethsemane, but Mary submits as handmaiden and Jesus as Son.

the hint-of-sublime vs the sublime itself

the melammu of the gods

All morality taken seriously tends to take on a religious tone as it approximates a general system, symbolically expressed, of general compensators.

Bayesian accounts of belief usually fail to distinguish fullness of assent and nonprovisionality of assent.

"Effective union between many individuals is brought about by means of courtesy and tolerance in the midst of varying opinions." Rosmini

"Intelligence, cut off from the divine loses its human quality." Rosmini

"The laws of nature are the laws of natures." Oderberg

Even sound arguments need regular refreshment, because arguments are not words but understandings.

infinite regress, the external world, and the need for an unsimulated simulating cause even in a simulation

Thursday, May 23, 2019

John Wick

Having had a very wearying end of term, and having finally, finally, completed everything for it, I took some time today to see the third John Wick movie. Overall it's a very interesting franchise.

Imagine an urban fantasy, a spiritual thriller, with something like this plot. The world is dominated by demons, or fallen souls, or some such, that manage to keep themselves just out of hell, and walk the earth maintaining their various fiefdoms, some rough order kept between them under a cutthroat council of the most powerful, all owing fealty, based entirely on power, to one above them all, as they strive to keep out of hell. One of the lesser demons, almost legendary as an enforcer, met an angel, or a good soul, or some such, and fell in love, and decided he wanted out of it all. He performs an impossible task and gets out. But the one he loves is taken away from him, and in a sense doubly taken away from him, and he returns in wrath to get his vengeance -- but once he does, he finds himself dragged further in, and becomes a fugitive from the powers that be.

If you can imagine a story like that, the best way to describe the series is that it is not this story, but it is almost this story. It is not a supernatural thriller, but the symbolism of one is all there; the criminal underworld of assassins, which is the outer face of the story, is blurred in words and in symbols with the actual underworld. In the first movie this is muted and can be missed, although it is undeniable once you see it -- the actual idea around which the script was built was that John, having found salvation, had the source of it ripped from him, and he returns to 'hell'. It becomes much more explicit in Chapter 2, which is structured by two lines: "Do you fear damnation, John?" ("Yes," John replies) and "Now you begin your descent into hell, Mr. Wick." The religious elements become much thicker, in part no doubt for the aesthetics, but also thematically -- learning about the High Table, we get Rome, lots of angels, and religious art, as well as a museum exhibit called 'Reflections of the Soul'. The punishment for breaking one of the unbreakable rules, spilling blood on the grounds of the Continental Hotel, is to become Excommunicado. Chapter 3: Parabellum pulls back from this in some ways and advances it in others: John's ticket for passage is a rosary with a Slavic cross, and his trip to Morocco, where he meets the Elder (the one above the High Table, who quite clearly corresponds to the Devil), is explicitly characterized as a descent into hell in an allusion to Dante, the assassins explicitly use more religious terminology (deconsecrated, penance, etc.), and so forth. The 'demons', that is, assassins, frame their world in Catholic terms, but from the mirror-image side. We also get references here and there to the Greco-Roman as well as the Christian underworld.

All of this could be done very pretentiously, and in most attempts probably would, but the reason for the popularity of the franchise is that it doesn't, not really; indeed, you can watch the movies without catching any more than an occasional metaphor. It's all there, but it's all there in symbolism and background aesthetics and very, very occasional explicit references. The movie itself focuses not on this more 'literary' aspect to the series but on its cinematic strength: spectacle, with a lot of very different fight scenes, excellent semi-realistic fight choreography (liberties taken -- nobody could actually survive what Wick does, but everything done makes some kind of sense in context), in visually stunning environments. Very, very violent, but violent in the way a Jacobin revenge play, or a Greek tragedy, or, for that matter, the Inferno, is violent.

There's a John Wick: Chapter 4 in the works. Given how John's descent into hell goes, the thematic next step would be the ascent of purgatory; although it's very difficult to imagine offhand what a John Wick version of the Purgatorio would be (and even more difficult to imagine any Paradiso, or even any Earthly Paradise, at the end), the three movies we have do set up for something like it. But they've also set things up for a War in Hell, continuing the mirror-image aspect of it: John Wick as a demon rebelling against the devil, the god of this world. And we'll see, but I suspect that we will see John's wedding ring -- symbol of the possibility of salvation -- again.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

A Poem Draft

Indian Blankets

The Indian blankets
by the side of the way
bow low in the wind
and flicker like flame;
they mirror my heart,
for my heart is now free
with the holiday-dance
of the sweet summer breeze.

Indian Blanket flowers

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

A Place in the Ranks Awaits You

by Adelaide Anne Procter

Rise! for the day is passing,
And you lie dreaming on;
The others have buckled their armor,
And forth to the fight are gone:
A place in the ranks awaits you,
Each man has some part to play;
The Past and the Future are nothing,
In the face of the stern Today.

Rise from your dreams of the Future, —
Of gaining some hard-fought field;
Of storming some airy fortress,
Or bidding some giant yield;
Your Future has deeds of glory,
Of honor (God grant it may!)
But your arm will never be stronger,
Or the need so great as To-day.

Rise! if the Past detains you,
Her sunshine and storms forget;
No chains so unworthy to hold you
As those of a vain regret:
Sad or bright, she is lifeless ever;
Cast her phantom arms away,
Nor look back, save to learn the lesson
Of a nobler strife To-day.

Rise! for the day is passing;
The sound that you scarcely hear
Is the enemy marching to battle : —
Arise! for the foe is here!
Stay not to sharpen your weapons,
Or the hour will strike at last,
When, from dreams of a coming battle,
You may wake to find it past!

Monday, May 20, 2019

Cassam on Conspiracy Theories

There is an excerpt from Quassim Cassam's book on conspiracy theories at at IAI. Like much of Cassam's work on this topic, I think it is both interesting and seriously flawed. A good way to see the problems with Cassam's argument is to look at one of the examples he uses to try to pin down what conspiracy theories are:

Suppose that a conspiracy theory is defined as a theory about a conspiracy. History books tell us, for example, that Guy Fawkes and his colleagues plotted to blow up the English Parliament in 1605. The plot was a conspiracy, and historical accounts of the plot are therefore conspiracy theories....

...Unlike well-documented historical theories about the Gunpowder Plot, Conspiracy Theories are highly speculative. They are based on conjecture rather than solid evidence, educated (or not so educated) guesswork. After all, if a conspiracy has been successful then it won’t have left behind clear-cut evidence of a conspiracy. This leads to the idea that the only way to uncover a conspiracy is by focusing odd clues or anomalies that give the game away.

The fundamental problem is that, while there was a genuine conspiracy to blow up Parliament, the genuine conspiracy was also a seed-crystal for what was undeniably a conspiracy theory, according to which a much larger population of Catholics were involved in a conspiracy to undermine the peace and laws of Britain, despite the fact that most of them had nothing to do with it. Thus we have a conspiracy theory built around an undeniable conspiracy. And Cassam in general tends not to graps that conspiracy theorists themselves do think that the evidence of the conspiracy they are talking about is clear-cut; they think the conspiracies are succeeding not because they are always successful in leaving behind no evidence but because they are successful at obfuscation. An English Protestant who thought that the Catholics were engaged in a conspiracy to subvert the kingdom could literally point to things that showed it -- particular plots, actions of Jesuits, and the like. The evidence was clear and obvious; it's just that Catholics were good at lying, and would be able to do it all in secret if not for divine providence and the work of vigilant people like himself. The odd clues and anomalies are not proof of the conspiracy itself; they are proof of the desperate cover-up as the conspiracy attempts to hide its failures. The conspiracy itself is taken to be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt; everyone would believe it if it weren't for all the obvious lies that people are believing instead. The conspiracy theorist focuses on odd clues or anomalies not because it is the foundation of his belief that there is a conspiracy but because the conspiracy theorist has to show other people that they are in fact only believing a cover story that can't possibly be true. How do you prove to somebody that something is a lie? You show them the inconsistencies. And once you've made people realize that they've been lied to, the conspiracy theorist thinks, the evidence will speak for itself.

Cassam is here, as most people are, confused by the name 'conspiracy theory'. This makes it sound like it's just about there being some sort of conspiracy. But we could just as easily call it 'cover-up theory'.

This is the reason why Cassam's later conclusion, "Conspiracy Theories are first and foremost forms of political propaganda", is in one sense on the right track and in another simply not useful, because the conspiracy theorist is someone who sees himself as countering political propaganda. Cassam, in his view, would be the propagandist -- after all, in a sense Cassam has effectively just admitted it, by saying that the reason he opposes conspiracy theories is that they put forward dangerous political views. Of course, Cassam doesn't think that he is propagandizing; but neither does the conspiracy theorist. Conspiracy theorists are not putting out propaganda; they are trying to oppose what they see as propaganda. It just so happens that what they see as propaganda, put out by an elite with political incentive to lie, Cassam sees as reasonable report, put out by experts with political incentive to seek the truth, and what he sees as propaganda, the conspiracy theorist sees as critical thinking that shows that the so-called experts are in fact active propagandists.

Conspiracy theory in the sense Cassam has in mind does not begin with an intent to propagandize; it begins with political discontent when it takes on the idea that the opposed political faction, whatever that may be, is fighting dirty and trying to hide that fact. Take, for instance, one of the popular conspiracy theories of the Enlightenment period, the theory of priestcraft: a bunch of priests have made alliance with a bunch of politicians to benight society throughout the ages, encouraging superstition and backing it with police power in order to make the people more pliable to both priest and politician. This is the kind of conspiracy theory that only arises in the context of an already-existing dispute about the role of religion in political life, from people who have come to think, for whatever reason, that their religious opponents are fundamentally liars concerned only with their own political position and their dupes who don't bother to think through the religious propaganda because they have a political reason not to do so.

It's true, of course, that conspiracy theorists can and do propagandize, like anyone else; but the mistake is not in recognizing this but thinking that the propagandizing is the core of the conspiracy theory. Cassam thinks that the basic function of a conspiracy theory is to advance a political agenda; but the basic function of a conspiracy theory is to stop the perceived advance of a political agenda. There is a fundamental sense in which all conspiracy theorists, regardless of whether they are right or left politically, are reactionaries. They exist to resist; they are in their own view the Resistance. The people in power are fighting with dirty tricks. The 'experts' have sold out. The proof of it is there to see, but the powerful are lying to try to hide it. And what you need to do is not persuade people of the conspiracy -- that's obvious to anyone who just thinks the matter through -- but to wake people up to the fact that they are being taken in by a lie. Now, of course, you can call their wake-up attempts propaganda if you like, but the point is that Cassam mislocates it: it is not to put forward an agenda but to resist one. To advance an agenda you just argue for it; but to resist one, you set out to debunk falsehoods, to uncover lies, to wake people up.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Voyages Extraordinaires #31: Le Chemin de France

My name is Natalis Delpierre. I was born in 1761, at Grattepanche, a village in Picardy. My father was a farm laborer. He worked on the estate of the Marquis d'Estrelle. My mother did her best to help him. My sisters and I followed our mother's example.

My father never possessed any property. He was precentor at the church, and had a powerful voice that could be heard even in the graveyard. The voice was almost all I inherited from him.

My father and mother worked hard. They both died the same year, 1779. God has their souls in His keeping!

Natalis Delpierre becomes a soldier and fights in the American Revolution, and then for the king, and then for the Republic. It is a time of great tension, as none of the other Powers trust the French Republic, and Germany in particular seems inclined to invade. Because of this, Delpierre takes two months' leave from the army to go to Germany and find his sister, Irma, who is servant and companion to a half-French family there, the Kellers, in order to bring her back safely. However, it turns out not to be possible to bring her back immediately, and war breaks out while he is there. This will lead Delpierre, Irma, and the Kellers to the journey that gives the book its title, Le Chemin de France (in English, The Flight to France).

The book is a light and easy read, with twenty-five very short chapters. The narrator is quite engaging. As with most of Verne's books, the backbone of it is a geographically precise journey, this time in the midst of war zone. That sounds perhaps more interesting than it is; the primary difficulty for the protagonists is not the war but the need to evade arrest when everyone is at the height of their suspicions; the armies affect their travel primarily by forcing them to go a long and difficulty road around in order to avoid them, which causes them to overstay on their passport. This is not to say that there is no excitement, nor does the story drag in any way (it is too short to drag), but aside from a couple of brief brushes with death and the urgency of a deadline, it largely ends up being a tale of a trip on which everything goes wrong. It's interesting, but in a way it's only very accidentally a war story.

I read it in English translation, in a cheap copy I picked up; although there was no indication of the translator, I believe that the translation was that by I. O. Evans, which, if so, means that the translation was probably usually so-so. Indeed, looking at the French, it's noticeable that the translation above strips out all the specifically Catholic references; what Delpierre actually says is that his father was a cantor, singing the Confiteor, with a loud voice that could be heard in the cemetery near the church, and could have been a priest, being a 'peasant dipped in ink', but his voice was about all that Delpierre inherited from him. The omissions are not essential to the story; that Delpierre's father was a cantor plays no role in the story, except that it makes sense of why he says that he only inherited his father's voice -- Delpierre is not the priestly or scholarly type, so his narrative will be rough and uneducated (in fact, Delpierre only starts learning to read and write in the course of the story he as narrator is setting down later in life). It's the kind of little value-adding detail that translations like this sandpaper away.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Feeling Your Way Through Poetry

Talking with Nick about GPT-2, I mentioned that one of the things poets do is feel out the next easy word, so I thought I would talk about this a bit more. I have no particular conclusions to draw about it, and am making no particular argument; it's just an interesting process, and it's also interesting in its contrast to other things poets are usually doing simultaneously.

One word doesn't given us much, so let's start with two words:

The evening

Now, obviously, the question is, the evening what? And there are two obvious paths we can go; we can take evening as an adjective, or we can take it as a noun. If the former, among the very salient next words are 'breeze' and 'star'; if the latter, two of the obvious next words are 'is' and 'falls'.

One of the things you do in writing poetry is to take a road less traveled and deliberately avoid the easy word, feel your way to something and then avoid it, and it will be worth contrasting this with just feeling your way through. So for the moment let's instead do:

The evening wolf

And the obvious question is, the evening wolf what? Now that we definitely have a noun, it begs for a verb. 'Is' is still possible; 'howls' is obvious. Let's break away from those and say instead:

The evening wolf breaks

Now, I've deliberately picked this verb because it's an odd one; you need a kind of breaking that a wolf can do, which limits what can go next. Two obvious possibilities are 'out' (as in breaking out in a howl) and 'cover'. Perhaps we can twist slightly again and say,

The evening wolf breaks silence

Now, we can compare that with the case in which we tried to go the easy way. So

The evening star

What do stars do? They shine.

The evening star shines

What's the next word after shines? Probably 'down'.

The evening star shines down

You usually don't just shine down, though, you shine down on something.

The evening star shines down on

On what? We could get a noun next, but it's probably going to be 'the' + something.

The evening star shines down on the

What do evening stars shine down on? The world.

The evening star shines down on the world

We could leave it there, but there's an obvious next word,

The evening star shines down on the world below

So let's pause here. It's a very pedestrian line (by definition, since taking the linguistic path of least resistance is what it means to say that something is pedestrian in poetry), which is not to say that it is a bad one; a poet who wrote lines like this would probably be trying for larger-scale effects -- big descriptive scenes, juxtaposed images, narratives, thematic repetitions, slowly building metaphors or twists. You often need pedestrian lines to make larger poetic structures easier to pick out. It's very difficult to do large-scale poetic effects Sagrada-Familia-style, with nothing normal in the details and yet a clear structure to the whole. So if you started here, you might use a structure like:

The evening star shines down on the world below,
which, covered with the freshly fallen snow,
shows tracks, deep black, of wolf and hare,
that punctuate the paper white and bare;

and so on, narratively, each line usually being the sort of thing that on its own could be found in a prose description or narrative, just arranged so that you keep the rhyme. The evening star shines down on the world below is a storytelling kind of line.

With The evening wolf breaks silence you would probably be doing detail-work -- capturing a particular image or metaphor or aural effect.

The evening wolf breaks silence,
the clouds unveil the light
which howls with silver violence
against the shades of night.

But what I am doing in showing how you might go from the original line is another act entirely different from feeling your way; I am identifying a function for the poem and engineering a way to incorporate the lines into a mechanism with that function. If you just feel your way forward, it works very differently. You know, for instance, that you are eventually going to go off the road, just as you know you would if you were blindfolded on a real road. But just by feel you can get quite a bit. For instance, evening stars shine down on the world below, but in poetry they also shine down on snow, and there are likely many, many poems where below calls and snow answers, so you can feel that a line after one that ends with 'below' is likely going to have 'snow'. If you're writing in English and used to poems that rhyme in couplets, one way to go from line to line will be boustrophedon, taking your words left to right in the first line and then taking them right to left in the next, then back to left to right. (In practice, of course, you sometimes might be feeling your way in both directions, sometimes left to right, sometimes right to left, just as the spirit takes you.) So we have

The evening star shines down on the world below

and it's very unlikely that you would just have the lines like this! The natural thing is to have something in front of 'snow'. What is often in front of 'snow'? 'Fallen'.

The evening star shines down on the world below
fallen snow

And what's an obvious thing to come before 'fallen', when you are talking about stars and snow?

The evening star shines down on the world below
freshly fallen snow

A few more moves and we might well get something like my two first lines above:

The evening star shines down on the world below,
which, covered with the freshly fallen snow,

Just by feel you might get the tracks in the snow, and the wolf and hare (which often make tracks in snow, and might be naturally paired); it's just possible that by feel you might get the paper from the white and snow, but unless you've come across the image before, you probably would not get the punctuation on paper because it's not common and requires combining several different comparisons simultaneously. When crafting a poem, that's exactly what you might use easy lines for to lay out the obvious things that you then twist all together at once. If you're not crafting, you're never going to get a twist except by accident. (Such accidents do happen; as I've noted before, there is a purely aleatory component to every kind of art. One of the things you do if working by feel is to keep an eye out for such happy accidents.)

You could go on by feel for as long as you please, but in practice you would usually not do so unless you were writing something very short, because of the fact that you will inevitably go off the road. As I have no great poetic genius, a lot of the poetry I write is just my experimentation with this or that, so I do lot of first drafts mostly by feel, and inevitably at some point, if you have a meter, you get off it, if you have a syllabic count, you deviate from it, if you have a rhyme scheme, you lose it. Do it with anything very long and you start sounding like William McGonagall, who is the master of going on and on as purely on the basis of feel as you can go while somehow still getting something completely recognizable as verse:

As soon as the catastrophe came to be known
The alarm from mouth to mouth was blown,
And the cry rang out all o'er the town,
Good Heavens! the Tay Bridge is blown down,
And a passenger train from Edinburgh,
Which fill'd all the peoples hearts with sorrow,
And made them for to turn pale,
Because none of the passengers were sav'd to tell the tale
How the disaster happen'd on the last Sabbath day of 1879,
Which will be remember'd for a very long time.

It must have been an awful sight,
To witness in the dusky moonlight,
While the Storm Fiend did laugh, and angry did bray,
Along the Railway Bridge of the Silv'ry Tay,
Oh! ill-fated Bridge of the Silv'ry Tay,
I must now conclude my lay
By telling the world fearlessly without the least dismay,
That your central girders would not have given way,
At least many sensible men do say,
Had they been supported on each side with buttresses,
At least many sensible men confesses,
For the stronger we our houses do build,
The less chance we have of being killed.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Dashed Off IX

Unction makes one's illness a sign of Christ's Passion, first for oneself and then for others.

- to read Hume's Treatise as a background to his History, an account of how to write history

"Marriage is a Holy Mystery (Sacrament) in which by the grace of the Holy Spirit a man and a woman are united into one body and create a domestic church. The family union created by marriage is a community of persons which, according to God's plan, is an icon of the relationship of the Persons of the Most Holy Trinity." COP #471
-- note that while there is a sense in which marriage as a natural office is hieratic, only by the sacrament of marriage is it genuinely ecclesial

One can think of the traditionary argument as being almost Kantian: Reason provides the structure of meaning, but the material is necessary for language actually to exist. This linguistic material, however, must be given to us, and in human cases it must be given to us by teaching of the language. But all though must ultimately work by means of linguistic material. So far it is structurally analogous to Kant on intuition.

inherence, consequence, composition

Kant's combat arena metaphor for skeptical method A423/B451

the terroir of symbol systems

"Christ reveals himself not to untaught or completely unlearned souls, but he shines forth and appears to those souls who are already more prepared to want to learn and who, giving birth to the beginning of faith in simple words, hasten on toward the knowledge of the more perfect." (Cyril of Alexandria)

Every universal proposition implies a kind of possibility and impossibility.

"The intelligible species which are participated by our intellect are reduced, as to their first cause, to a first principle which is by its essence intelligible -- namely, God." ST 1.84.4ad1

The uncreative person's conception of creativity tends to be purely recombinatorial.

suppositional voluntarism

memorization and doxastic voluntarism

Marx's analysis of alienation applies even more forcefully to socialist regimes than it does to capitalist regimes, since socialist regimes, trying to go beyond capitalist ones, in fact aggravate the essential problems involved.

In the course of an inquiry, it not uncommonly happens that a question arises about a source of evidence, such that a monitum or vetitum has to be imposed with regard to it, until the question is answered.

registers of literal reading
(1) hyperhyperliteral: even etymological meanings taken as literal
(2) hyperliteral: even figurative speech taken as literal
(3) grammatical: includes tropes and explicit elements only
(4) historical/narrative: includes tropes, implicatures, implications, explicit and implicit allusion in the text itself.
(5) contextual: includes everything for the historical/narrative as well as emergent allusions, implicatures and implications in a broader context or corpus, interactions with genre conventions or reasonable juxtapositions with other texts

character arcs
involve learning how
(1) with respect to the good
---- (a) to handle good possessed
---- (b) to seek good not yet had
---- ---- (1) and in seeking to fail to achieve the good sought
---- ---- (2) and in seeking to achieve the good sought
(2) with respect to the bad
---- (a) to handle bad possessed
---- (b) to go about avoiding bad
---- ---- (1) and in the attempt to fail to avoid bad
---- ---- (2) and in the attempt to avoid the bad

Apology presupposes honor conventions.

the Epicurean clinamen as making a distinction between physical and ethical events

Act so that the maxim of your action is in accordance with what is sublime.

misvalues in axiology

"I can think of myself as immortal only insofar as I am myself the creation of an act of love." Marcel

Love imbues into things a goodness not reducible to reward, and it is such that participation in it is that whereby the goodness is imbued. This participation is made possible by love itself in a threefold way: vocation, satisfaction, election, each of which orients the participant. Such participation, for human beings, cannot but be by signs, by which this participation is intensified, expressed, handed over, and consummated.

Moral law is received from grace, as a means of grace.

"The duty to educate follows from the agreement to beget children; and the obligation to set up a common household follows from the common duty of education." Mendelssohn

The rights to admonish, to instruct, to fortify, and to comfort are ipso facto rights to the infrastructure and resources essential to these things.

One must dabble much to learn how to build well.

poetry as purifying passion into wonder

monarchy: principle of expansive household
aristocracy: principle of fealty
democracy: principle of voluntary association

Aquinas's reason for thinking that verecundia is not a virtue would be reason to think penitentia is not a virtue; but the latter is a virtue; therefore, etc.

Thomas Carleton Compton: As the sun among the planets, so dialectic among the seven liberal arts is the greatest in splendor (because it teaches truths).

In liberal arts, you learn how to make things with your mind.
Computer programming should be regarded as a liberal art.

five elements of a marital disposition: competence, discretion, openness to children, fidelity, indissolubility

the American citizen as conceptually armigerous

NB that the Maximian Life of the Virgin links the Presentation of the Virgin to Psalm 44. (Note also the allusion at the beginning of the discussion of the Dormition.)

Bodies are experienced as acting.

the refinement of the feeling that something is wrong (or 'looks wrong' or 'sounds wrong')

the Prayer of Azariah as a template of Eucharistic devotion

the world as illuminant (making known)

Political parties kill themselves by pique.

Testining in education should be used simply to indicate thresholds.

The entire Catholic Church owes the humility of Pope Gregory XII a debt beyond all repayment.

II Constantinople gives the orthodox exegesis of "one incarnate nature of the Word".

Note that Hume sees pride and humility as having a causal structure (they require both a causative idea and an object = self).

T->◊B as a bridge principle between alethic and doxastic

demonstration as uniting epistemic Box and alethic Box

the three aspects of episcopal authority: ordinarial, synodal, collegial

The beginning of ECHU takes its origin from Hume's letter to Hutcheson 17 Sept 1739.

The effectiveness of a pope tends to lie more in the accumulation of small things than in major projects.

The measure of a day is what is learned in it.

"The ceremonial law itself is a kind of living script, rousing the mind and heart, full of meaning, never ceasing to inspire contemplation and to provide the occasion and opportunity for instruction." Mendelssohn

the first Chrysippean argument: (1) The cause of what human reason cannot achieve would be superior to man. (2) The heavens are what human reason cannot achieve. (3) The cause thereof all men call God.
the second Chrysippean argument: (1) If there are no gods, nothing is better than man. (2) It is arrogant for man to believe that nothing is superior to man. (3) Therefore it is arrogant to believe there are no gods.

Whether we see a need is partly dependent on our willingness to help, independently of seeing it.

precedent + aleatory variation, through rational selection inspired by the Muse, applied against material resistance

amplique and ciselante phases in the history of philosophical systems

Secrets tend to be much alike.

Kitsch tells us that for which receivers of art thirst, and avant-gardism that for which artists itch.

There is always an element of chance in factional politics, because factions will emphasize what has turned out to succeed, even if only by chance, rather than what a deliberate and coherent plan would have anticipated. Thus, for instance, American conservatives emphasize at present low taxes, pro-life issues, and gun rights, because these are the only popular organizing successes they have had in recent memory. American progressives backed off free speech, once a core issue, when it became clear that it impeded other, more recently popular and successful, progressive issues, like gay rights; and so forth.

Note that the argument of the Lysis implies that virtue is required for love of wisdom: only the virtuous can love wisdom, or, rather, the pursuit of virtue is integral with the love of wisdom.

God as Proton Philon

"To the goods of the mind answers authority; to the goods of fortune, power or empire." Harrington

The first and fundamental condition for good classificatory terminology is distinction useful for inquiry.

FCS Schiller: science, philosophy, and religion all have an animist origin, i.e., they first arise form the notion that all things are analogous to man, and from this form the concept of physical causation on the model of volitional causation.
-- animism in light of uniformity of nature -> polytheism; polytheism in light of uniformity of nature -> monotheism (if personal agency continues) or pantheism (if the sense of causation obscures the notion of personal agency to the point it seems impossible)
-- "Animism is also the origin of philosophy, for the volitional theory of causation does duty also as a theory of the ultimate truth about the world."

"Known essences are simply that activity of at hing which is comprehended in the idea of the thing." Rosmini

"The religion of the Roman people in general has two separate aspects, its ritual and the auspices, to which a third element is added when, as a result of portents and prodigies, the interpreters of the Sibyl or the diviners offer prophetic advice." Cicero (Cotta in NatD 2.5)

All materialism ultimately collapses into speculations about appearances.

A people is
(1) a community of families
(2) a market
(3) a militia
(4) a moral unit of cultus
(5) a system of customary law

Lorentz transofrmation as rotation in 4 dimensions (Poincare)

Protests often seem to fail because of the way they put on display the incoherences of the movement.

"Liberation that cries out against others is not true liberation." Romero

Taxation must be linked to service, risk protection, or restoration of what is lost.

Part of the hieratic function of the natural office of marriage is curation of the family memories -- preserving the traditions, holidays, commemorations and celebrations, etc.

separation of the legislative, executive, eleemosynary, and judicial powers of government
the eleemosynary function of government: pardon, patronage, pension, provision, and subsidy

There is a false kind of social justice that is very good at repenting of other people's sins.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

A Noting of Notable Links

* Roger Scruton, Kitsch and the Modern Predicament. I discussed kitsch here recently, trying to situate the notion in a larger context.

* Clare Coffey, Modernity's Spell, discusses mesmerism.

* John Locke's Method for Common-Place Books

* John Wilkins on John Ray.

* John P. McGann, Poor Human Olfaction Is a Nineteenth Century Myth

* Gregory DePippo on the life of St. Vincent Ferrer, who served the Avignon papacy; I've discussed St. Vincent here before, Vincent Ferrer and the Antipope.

* Dan Nosowitz looks at the manchineel tree, America's most dangerous tree.

* Elizabeth Picciuto, Why We Feel for Fictional Characters. I discussed the Paradox of Fiction here some years ago. Like Picciuto I would reject premise 1.

* A. Dneprov, The Game

* An interesting Quora discussion of how China feeds its people.

* Brandon Otto, Confirmation in the Church Fathers. I don't think he gets St. Cyril of Jerusalem entirely right; in comparing Confirmation and the Eucharist, the point St. Cyril is making, it seems to me, is not that Confirmation involves something like transubstantiation but that it involves the real presence of the Holy Spirit.

* Ian Miller reviews Owen Davies's A Supernatural War, on purported miracles and religious experiences in World War I.

* Jim Beall, Warships of Sea and Space

* James Hannam on Lucretius.

* Emily Herring on Henri Bergson.

* Philippe Lemoine, Why falsificationism is false and Hell hath no fury like a Popperian scorned

* Oliver Burkeman, How the news took over reality

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

The Iron Footsteps of Time

A Castle Old and Grey
by Alexander Anderson

I never see a castle
That is gaunt and grey and grim,
But my thoughts at once go backward
To the past so misty and dim.

To the time when tower and turret,
Kept watch far over the vale;
And along the sounding draw-bridge
Rode knights in their suits of mail.

I see the sunshine glancing
On helmet, pennon, and spear;
And hear from the depth of the forest,
A bugle calling clear.

I fill the hall with visions
Of ladies rich in their bloom;
And stately knights in armour,
And waving with feather and plume.

If I climb the broken stairway,
Where the stone is smooth and fine,
I hear a rustle and whisper,
And footsteps in front of mine.

Whisper of youth and maiden,
As they met in the long ago;
His deep and strong and manly,
Hers tender and sweet and low.

But maiden and youth have vanished,
Away from the scene and the light;
Gone, too, the high-born lady,
And the plumed and armoured knight.

Only the grey old castle,
Of crumbling stone and lime,
Still stands to speak of the ages,
And the iron footsteps of Time.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

The Interrogator

The comedian Tim Conway died today. As he was perhaps the comedian who best understood how to use television as a medium, it seems fitting to share this sketch from The Carol Burnett Show, which is one of the greatest television comedy skits ever done. It starts out working bit by bit, with minor chuckles; all of this is just preparation. Then just after 5:20, he takes Lyle Waggoner and Harvey Korman by complete surprise by pulling out the puppet, which was not in the script. And then we've got the cool-down to a satisfying ending.

Talk to Transformer II

This time giving Talk to Transformer openings of some of my poems. There are some charming expressions -- I like "A maiden of beauty, / wearing bright crimson, / was the first of our kind", although it's very weird that she has hands four feet long, and it's funny to think of being so beautiful that it's impossible you were ever young enough to make a mistake. I also like "we need not be gods, but just men".

She caught,
with casual raise of the hand,
the zephyr-breeze running through the green field --

she caught it too,
and held it up to the light. She stared at it, and at the air above her,
and at the night -- and at the people who lived there,
before her and before her and before her
a year ago, and now she could see them again,
she had seen them,
she'd seen all the things she could have seen,
all the things they can see now, now...
And her eyes took on a wild, wild look of terror,
so dark and so dark there was nothing in them
that could hurt her. They would see her again
in that night, she would see them again,
she would never want to go there anymore!
That night, she'd seen them all again.
But not what she'd seen the night before she was killed -- she wasn't frightened!
That night when one of the people fell from the sky,
into the deep ravine, into the deep ravine,

I carry moly in my pocket;
I use it to mollify
the spirits that meander
where my memories go to die.

The old man is still here;
The children and the children's children
are here, too;
They're just too old to be around me.
He's a friend I must thank for this;
He got me through childhood and
I got through life without a friend.
But the old man is still here,
In this very house where he is.
He is just an old man that has been here
for many moons
with this same old face.
So it is best to let the children and the children's children
be here.
Let me tell you the story of my life.
When I was thirteen, my brother came and
moved in with my mother.
My mother had a large house
and had four brothers and three sisters.
She gave my brother a wife and her children.
My father came over every year
because he was rich. He lived just for me.
My mother's marriage was broken up

Amid the stones an ancient well does stand;
there druids, perhaps, once did their rites,
or some fair nymph gave it sacred gifts.
5. To the left, when at his spring, stands the stone house where he sleeps, the well-known of old. And in front of it lies a temple of the gods, on which the sacred stone is placed and where the gods are wont to worship; and also in front of it stands the temple of Orpheus, the father of song, and Orpheus's wife. 6. Now I come to the right, and as I come there stood before the temple, Orchomena, who is the daughter of Meneus and the wife of Phylacus, who is one of the sons of Aristobulus; and in front of the temple is the place called Bystole, and she was given to Orchomena by an old and fair-haired man, and she bore Agamemnon her son, and then she went to the temple. 7. And then in the temple went she on to the altar of the gods, first from the stone

Over the sea the storms are cast,
the lightning strikes, the winds unfold,
and we are heavy-laid with past,
though once in youth we journeyed bold.

A maiden of beauty,
wearing bright crimson,
was the first of our kind.
On her breast were carved three flowers, red,
in gold leaf-paper:
the first was a white lily with blossoms upon it.
Afterwards two more were placed,
and on one of them is the name
The First. This is the title given to each of us.
I was her caretaker. Her days were spent,
for she was a beautiful babe,
so beautiful in fact that it
it was impossible that she had ever been
young enough to make a mistake.
She had two hands, four feet long,
and she would climb up into the skies,
then glide from the sky down towards the water.
She was gentle, and loving,
as a daughter of Nature.
When her mother died, I took her in.
As usual I had already seen her smile.

On high the cloud is shining gold
where Tabor's hill is rising, bold;
our Lord our God has glories shown
and all his realm to us made known.

The sun, the stars, and all the glory
of his majesty.
O great God God, he knows how to judge.
For we all must serve
and we need not be gods, but just men.
O the greatness of God's glory, he knows
how to make one know all things;
and how to make one know what he knows.
We are no Gods, but our God,
the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit are all.
He sees beyond all things that is and to know the God;
and, indeed, he sees also that we all must worship him.
Our Lord Jesus Christ himself says:
Tabor's hill is shining gold where Tabor's hill rose. [O. Fr. tabor (Fr.) — l.'ordre (Fr.) + -ere (Fr.) + laison de (Fr.) + -tence (Fr.) (+ adj.) +

Monday, May 13, 2019

Talk to Transformer

Talk to Transformer gives a snippet of text generated from a prompt by GPT-2, which uses a large corpus of materials to predict by statistical means what each next word is, given what went on before. So I threw some philosophemes at it. Here is the first result for each.

Prompt: The attributes of being are unity, truth, and goodness.

The attributes of being are unity, truth, and goodness. The attributes of being can be seen and the attributes of truth can be recognized and seen. The attributes of being is perfect and will continue to be perfect. The attribute of being is beauty. The attribute of being is wisdom. The attribute of becoming is love. The attributes of becoming is joy."
Here, by "beauty" I mean beauty of body, of speech and of mind but also beauty of the heart. The "attributes" of being refer to the mind. The words "being" and "truth" refer to the heart. They are the attributes which the human being can perceive and which can be recognized and known for those things as we read "the human soul of the Lord" and "the man of sin." So we see, therefore, that God is all the more perfect because of his unity. He is all the more worthy of glorification and of eternal life because he is the source of glory that must be sought and found and glorified.
The word of God, if it were in any danger of the meaning I am suggesting, would be "God does

Prompt: Change is the act of the potential insofar as it is potential.

Change is the act of the potential insofar as it is potential. Thus, the potential of the soul is that it is possible of being. Because the actuality of the soul is that it is possible of being - not of existing. What is real is not of something real; it is not the actuality of the possibility of the real but the possibility of the actual. What is real is not that it exists, but that inasmuch as it possesses an existing possibility, it does exist. So the potential is always existing insofar as it is possible of existing; the being in a certain time may present its possibility to itself to be realized once, but its existence cannot present itself for any definite time. This is the essence of the unity of possibilities: it is the unity of the real and potential insofar as they are possible of being. This is the point in which the dualism of the Real and the possible becomes apparent. The actuality of the soul does not exist in itself in any particular time, but that does not mean that it cannot have a being existing now. There may be something that existed in time previously. This does not

Prompt: The unexamined life is not worth living. Once it hits the birds, it gets quite distracted from the original idea.

The unexamined life is not worth living. It is not worth making a habit of doing any longer.

Life is hard enough as it is….

When I first saw it, I felt like jumping up and down like I was crazy. Like there was some huge mistake. Like I was falling in love with nothing. Then, I would go for walks and find a place where I could get close to nature and the birds and birds in the garden and the birds and the bees. The birds would sing, and I would listen.

One time at a quiet spot on my way to my favorite spot on my way to do research on the relationship between men and women that I am passionate about. I was taking the bus home, taking the stairs, listening to some music and just enjoying myself. All of a sudden I heard it in the back of my head.

And I couldn't help it. In this moment I really knew that I thought a lot about this, a lot about women and their relationship to their femininity. And I just knew that it was so wrong. How could anything like this happen?!

Prompt: Good is to be done and sought; bad is to be avoided. I thought it was funny that, prompted with the first principle of practical reason, the generator suddenly became fake-Mormon. It is, of course, fake Mormon; neither the verses attributed to Doctrine and Covenants, nor the one attributed to 3 Nephi are the real verses. For instance, the real D&C 112:22 says, "Inasmuch as they shall humble themselves before me, and abide in my word, and hearken to the voice of my Spirit."

Good is to be done and sought; bad is to be avoided. Thus the Lord says (D&C 112:22): "All things whatsoever ye shall ask in my name. . . . Let them speak: and let them do ye deeds; let them do whatsoever ye shall send them. Behold, I will give unto you these commandments, even the commandments and covenants of my spirit" (D&C 112:23–24).

The Savior taught,

"I bear record that God also gives blessings unto those who labor in the mines. . . For as many as have been willing to do the work, the mine has been opened; and those who have refused have not labored"; (D&C 7:3).

Therefore, the Savior warned us that "if ye desire anything good from me, withhold it from him who taketh you up to go up into heaven: because he also hath power to destroy both soul and body" (3 Nephi 28:29).

Our first mission

After we have received the gospel message and seen its truths reflected, we can seek

Prompt: It is better to endure evil than to do it. In all honesty, I've known fan fiction that was more crazy than "Hobbits of New York".

It is better to endure evil than to do it. "What should we expect, from a king who has suffered so much? A thousand stripes in jail. A thousand murders. A thousand beheading by stoning in the streets. A thousand years imprisoned in hell. "The king may have died, but the world doesn't care; a thousand years to be punished, to be punished well and to enjoy what's left over after your death."

In The Lord of the Rings, hobbits have the option of fighting a dragon or being turned to stone on Mount Doom.

In "Hobbits of New York," Jake, a high school football captain from the future, is sent by Gandalf to rescue a young man who had kidnapped his sister. A group of hobbits tries to rescue the man, but he takes them under false pretenses. One says he lost everything and was looking for his mother, while another says he lost everything and was looking for his daughter. Jake, an orphan from what he thinks was a dangerous city in the future, doesn't understand.

Film [ edit ]

The film version of

Prompt: Philosophy is love of wisdom. This one heads in a pseudo-Buddhist direction.

Philosophy is love of wisdom. We seek a living wisdom which can lead to peace, to the knowledge that there is a mind of its own within our souls.

A Mind that is free from fear, and that is guided by a Mind that is free from attachment and self-interest.

A Mind that is free to be the object of all attention and joy. This is the true essence of the Mind which is to be found in the Buddha and which is in all living creatures. There is no place for the mind as such, and the mind is only the product of attachment, desire and greed. We are bound to find this Mind somewhere.

The aim of the student is to get to the Buddha through his understanding of this Mind.

The teacher is the Buddha in all of his fullness. He has an enormous power in the Buddha's heart. As long as he teaches the true doctrines, that is all that the mind can do. The mind may be full, but only once it has been liberated from every other object of mind, it will have ceased to act as a mind. It will cease to be

Five Poem Re-Drafts


I carry moly in my pocket;
I use it to mollify
the spirits that meander
where my memories go to die.
The elephants in their graveyards
stack the ivory to the heights
where phantoms march and murmur
of long-lost loves and lights.
Deceptive and dishonest
are the markers of the dead;
wanderers sad and foolish
are those by them misled;
But I too shadow-wander
beneath a darkening sky
where skeletons of madness
on sands of heartache lie.


With old sepulchral light the moon,
so harsh and vivid, plenilune,
now stares with glaring eye on all
those marked by traces of the Fall;
the night is dark, the night is bright
with unilluminating light,
with unchromatic, pristine white.

The standing stars look sadly down
on stark and shade-infested ground;
the eye is witched, its vision lies,
the light from every corner shies;
a primal sin, like stain, o'erlays
the compline earth that, quiet, prays:
O present help, assist our ways.

The moon resides in orbit high,
but higher orbits yet may fly;
the stars that in the evening wake
but gems of diadem now make
for regnal glory, light most sweet,
that spans the world and night defeats,
the moon itself beneath her feet.


I walked in city-darkness underneath a stormy sky,
Dreaming of the echoes of a God condemned to die,
Dreaming of the words of a convict lifted high:
It is done; it is finished.

The darkness all around me was the blackness of my heart,
Tendrils, living death, that entered every part;
Down I fell, straightway, as wounded by a dart:
It is done; it is finished.

Then in a moment's clearness, I saw me as I am,
An endless sea of failings with denial like a dam--
And off in thorny bushes was the bleating of a ram:
It is done; it is finished.

No guilt within my heart and no burden on my back,
No torment by my demons or a conscientious rack,
Just safely well-defended from all darkness and attack:
It is done; it is finished.

I hardly can be better than the way I was before,
And yet the change is vast as a realm from shore to shore,
As simple and momentous as a sudden-open door:
It is done; it is finished.

And though I fall again I will never be alone
And wait to be restored in resurrected flesh and bone--
For the tomb in which I dwell is no longer sealed by stone:
It is done; it is finished.


I am a leaf that grows on an infinite tree
that is only a flower on an infinite tree
that grows on a hill by an infinite road
that is lined with trees of an infinite height
beneath the expanse of an infinite sky
that has seen the trees grow for infinite years
and a sun that will shine for an infinite age
while the infinite worlds in their boundless array
are rolling forever under infinite stars
that make up a world among infinite worlds
that all grow like one leaf on an infinite tree
that I see in my hand with my infinite eye.

The Well

Amid the stones an ancient well does stand;
there druids, perhaps, once did their rites,
or some fair nymph gave it sacred gifts.
Through long years the endless caravans
cross the seas, cross barren lands,
through forests deep and wild wastes,
to seek the well, its darkened depth,
to cast their kingdoms in.

One day, too, you will seek that well,
with all your heart's unturning hope;
you too will treasures cast inside,
into the well most dearly sought,
the unwishing well, to undo a wish.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Fortnightly Book, May 12

This next fortnight is also a double feature. I will be continuing with Charles Williams, reading his Shadows of Ecstasy and The Greater Trumps.

Shadows of Ecstasy was written in the 1920s, but it wasn't until Williams had published several other books that it became publishable, so it was eventually published, after some rewriting, in 1933. It is in some ways Williams's most occultish work, one that is not so much concerned with higher things but with the nature of power: power in itself, power unfettered, power to change the world, and its ability to sweep people along regardless of any questions of morality.

The Greater Trumps, while written later, was published first, in 1832; one might say that it is about order, the order of the universe understood as a Great Dance, with the images of tarot cards serving as its primary gimmick.

H. G. Wells, The Time Machine; The War of the Worlds


Opening Passages: From The Time Machine:

The Time Traveller (for so it will be convenient to speak of him) was expounding a recondite matter to us. His pale grey eyes shone and twinkled, and his usually pale face was flushed and animated. The fire burnt brightly, and the soft radiance of the incandescent lights in the lilies of silver caught the bubbles that flashed and passed in our glasses. Our chairs, being his patents, embraced and caressed us rather than submitted to be sat upon, and there was that luxurious after-dinner atmosphere, when thought runs gracefully free of the trammels of precision. And he put it to us in this way—marking the points with a lean forefinger—as we sat and lazily admired his earnestness over this new paradox (as we thought it) and his fecundity.

From The War of the Worlds:

No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. With infinite complacency men went to and fro over this globe about their little affairs, serene in their assurance of their empire over matter. It is possible that the infusoria under the microscope do the same. No one gave a thought to the older worlds of space as sources of human danger, or thought of them only to dismiss the idea of life upon them as impossible or improbable. It is curious to recall some of the mental habits of those departed days. At most terrestrial men fancied there might be other men upon Mars, perhaps inferior to themselves and ready to welcome a missionary enterprise. Yet across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us. And early in the twentieth century came the great disillusionment.

Summary: H. G. Wells's first time travel story was "The Chronic Argonauts", a short story published seven years before The Time Machine. In it, one can see the germinal conceptions that would eventually give us the novel. The explanation for the machine is much the same, as is the mysterious description of the machine as consisting of a lot of parts consisting of materials difficult to obtain or use, like ivory, mahogany, and nickel. But we also see a significant improvement in the underlying craft. "The Chronic Argonauts" is an interesting piece, but it lacks the profundity that makes The Time Machine perhaps the greatest work of its kind. While the Welsh color of the former is striking, the more selective and careful description (and, often, nondescription) of the book greatly strengthens the impact of the story, and the quiet and understated Time Traveler of the latter is vastly more charismatic than the somewhat florid Dr. Nebogipfel.

One of the great aspects of The Time Machine is its ability to combine the sweeping and the personal; you feel how far in the past you are compared with the Eloi and the Morlocks, and the distantness of the slow eclipsing of life on earth beyond them, and yet the story even at its most speculative never gives the sense of abstractness. You are there with the Time Traveler, and with Weena. It is an advantage, I think, not to know how the bifurcation of the human race came about; the Time Traveler speculates, of course, but he does not know. This makes the contrast-with-recognizability especially effective: we can see in ourselves the Eloi-like and the Morlock-like, which intensifies the awfulness of getting the pure forms.

I listened to the Escape version of The Time Machine:

They make a decent effort to try to stay close to the spirit of the work. Among others, they make two very significant changes -- the Time Traveler has a companion, which is probably better for radio than just having the Time Traveler tell his tale as he does in the book (we need a way to retain the narrative distance), and they give the Time Traveler a name, which is probably a mistake. As adaptations go, however, it largely works.

The War of the Worlds sees the greatest empire on earth invaded by an irresistible power. One of the things I very much liked about the tale on re-reading it this past week was how Wells steadily builds it up from the first puzzled curiosity, to shock, to confusion, to animal terror, and finally, when the Martians fail (because they are not defeated) the countershock that jarringly begins the restoration of normal life, to the extent that it can be restored. Its characters are less striking than those of The Time Machine, but it makes skillful use of horror elements to capture the helplessness of the time.

It also does very well with the alien-ness of the Martians, who, unlike the Eloi and Morlocks, are very alien -- their almost baffling physiological structure, their bloodsucking ways, their extreme technical advancement combined with a broad incomprehension of the wheel and of bacteria, combined with our own inability to understand why they are even doing this. Some people don't like the sudden collapse of the Martian invasion, but Wells actually does quite a bit to prepare for it -- not only are the Martians clearly underestimating how disease-ridden we are, it seems clear from a number of things that Wells says that they may have had unexpected problems with the provisions they brought, and so were in an emergency state, on a clock to get more.

There's a sense in which The War of the Worlds is also a time travel story, except that instead of traveling into the future, the future comes to us. One of Wells's own essays is mentioned in passing in the book, "The Man of the Year Million", sometimes better known under the title "Of a Book Unwritten", which quite clearly anticipates some of the physiological features of the Martians by speculating about what human beings might be in a much later evolution. (The link to time travel is also underlined by the artilleryman's plans, which are eerily suggestive of something that could lead to the Eloi and Morlocks.) In another essay, "The Extinction of Man", he says, "It is part of the excessive egotism of the human animal that the bare idea of its extinction seems incredible to it"; but, as he notes, there is nothing strange from an evolutionary perspective about the idea that we might go extinct. It is, indeed, inevitable at some point. The Martians just bring us face to face with it.

But, of course, the Martians are not immune from it, either; for all their alien-ness, they are not so different from us in this respect. Perhaps, as the novel's reference to "The Man of the Year Million" might suggest, they are just what we will be, having only gotten there faster. People often dislike their downfall by bacteria, but, as the essay on human extinction, this could, for all we know, be our own end:

And, finally, there is always the prospect of a new disease. As yet science has scarcely touched more than the fringe of the probabilities associated with the minute fungi that constitute our zymotic diseases. But the bacilli have no more settled down into their final quiescence than have men; like ourselves, they are adapting themselves to new conditions and acquiring new powers. The plagues of the Middle Ages, for instance, seem to have been begotten of a strange bacillus engendered under conditions that sanitary science, in spite of its panacea of drainage, still admits are imperfectly understood, and for all we know even now we may be quite unwittingly evolving some new and more terrible plague—a plague that will not take ten or twenty or thirty per cent., as plagues have done in the past, but the entire hundred.

Favorite Passages: From The Time Machine:

'The darkness grew apace; a cold wind began to blow in freshening gusts from the east, and the showering white flakes in the air increased in number. From the edge of the sea came a ripple and whisper. Beyond these lifeless sounds the world was silent. Silent? It would be hard to convey the stillness of it. All the sounds of man, the bleating of sheep, the cries of birds, the hum of insects, the stir that makes the background of our lives—all that was over. As the darkness thickened, the eddying flakes grew more abundant, dancing before my eyes; and the cold of the air more intense. At last, one by one, swiftly, one after the other, the white peaks of the distant hills vanished into blackness. The breeze rose to a moaning wind. I saw the black central shadow of the eclipse sweeping towards me. In another moment the pale stars alone were visible. All else was rayless obscurity. The sky was absolutely black.'

From The War of the Worlds:

I followed them to my study, and found lying on my writing-table still, with the selenite paper weight upon it, the sheet of work I had left on the afternoon of the opening of the cylinder. For a space I stood reading over my abandoned arguments. It was a paper on the probable development of Moral Ideas with the development of the civilising process; and the last sentence was the opening of a prophecy: "In about two hundred years," I had written, "we may expect——" The sentence ended abruptly. I remembered my inability to fix my mind that morning, scarcely a month gone by, and how I had broken off to get my Daily Chronicle from the newsboy. I remembered how I went down to the garden gate as he came along, and how I had listened to his odd story of "Men from Mars."

Recommendation: Both Highly Recommended.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Apostle of Andalusia

Today is the feast of St. Juan de Ávila, Doctor of the Church. John of Avila was born to a wealthy Spanish family; he became a priest and, shortly after, his parents having recently died, he gave away the family fortune to the poor and set out to become a missionary to Mexico. There were delays, however, and while he was waiting in Seville for everything to come together, and he come to the attention of the bishop of Seville, who tried to convince him to stay and be a missionary in Andalusia instead. It took a lot of persuasion, but it was eventually successful, and he became well known throughout Andalusia for the quality of his homilies. As happened with a great many popular priests and religious of the day, his opponents eventually reported him to the Inquisition, and he ended up in jail in 1532; he was there about a year before they cleared him of all charges. In his 50s, he started having serious health problems, and eventually died in Mantilla on May 10, 1569. He was beatified by Leo XIII, canonized by Paul VI, and named Doctor of the Church by Benedict XVI.

From one of his letters:

The Israelites who journeyed through the desert had appetites so disordered that they could not enjoy the manna "containing in itself all sweetness," which God sent them. Their blindness was so great that they did not find fault with themselves, or with the evil condition of their health, but with the food, which was of the most savoury kind. They asked for some other sort of viand with which they thought they would be better satisfied and pleased:—it was given them, but at the cost of their lives. We are to learn by this that even if the things of God are not always agreeable to us, still we must not wish for what is contrary to them, however delightful it may seem to us, for without doubt it would poison our souls. We should rather rid ourselves of the disgust we feel for religion, and then, when the appetites of our soul are healthy, we shall feel a right and pleasant relish for the food God gives His children.

To work slothfully and tepidly in God's service will cause you to lead so unhappy a life that you will be forced to change your ways. Besides, such a life is disloyal to our Saviour Who laboured with such ardent love to redeem us, and so willingly took up the cross that His love for us exceeded His suffering. The tepid soul cannot enjoy the world's pleasures, having given them up in the desire of doing right, and yet, for want of fervour, it does not find happiness in God. In this way such a soul is placed between two opposites, each of which is a torment to it; it suffers such severe afflictions that at last it leaves the right road, and with miserable fatuity seeks the flesh-pots of the Egypt it had left, because it cannot endure the hardships of the desert.

Thursday, May 09, 2019

Natural Law Theory

(I've been feeling a bit fried the past two weeks, so this last two weeks of term will likely see more sporadic posting.)

I've been looking at various ethics textbooks, and remembering why I don't really like ethics textbooks. Here is a good example from a textbook that, for the most part, is actually better than most you can find, Lewis Vaughn's Doing Ethics (5th Edition, W. W. Norton & Co., New York: 2019):

According to Aquinas, at the heart of the traditional theory is the notion that right actions are those that accord with the natural law--the moral principles that we can "read" clearly in the very structure of nature itself, including human nature. We can look into nature and somehow uncover moral standards because nature is a certain way: it is rationally ordered and teleological (goal-directed), with every part having its own purpose or end at which it naturally aims. From this notion about nature, traditional natural law theorists draw the following conclusion: How nature is reveals how it should be. The goals to which nature inclines reveal that we should embrace and the moral purposes to which we should aspire. (p. 139).

Literally every sentence in this paragraph is wrong, and not wrong in kinda-close-but-not-quite sort of way, either -- it is wholly wrong. The 'traditional natural law theory' that it imagines is entirely fictional.

(1) The first and most glaringly obvious mistake is the confusion about what 'natural law' means. Natural law is called 'natural law' because it is the law natural to human reason. The idea in Aquinas, and he is not atypical in this, is that there are certain principles of human reason that fit the definition of law, so law is not something that is merely made by us, it is something that is a part of reason itself. The paragraph above makes the common mistake made by beginners that 'natural law' in the sense used by natural law theorists has something to do with 'law of nature' in the sense of the stable course of natural actions and changes. It is in fact essential to natural law theory that this confusion not be made; 'law of nature' in the latter sense is a figurative sense of the term 'law', but in 'natural law' in the sense used in natural law theory, the term 'law' is used in a literal sense. What is more, natural law theory, as such, doesn't have anything to do with "the very structure of nature itself"; that is a matter of metaphysics, not natural law. And while there is a broad sense in which a natural law theorist might say that we read moral principles in human nature, this is only in the sense that it is part of human nature to have reason.

(2) The precepts of natural law are not discovered by 'looking into nature'; they are principles of reason without which we cannot reason about practical matters, applied to the common good of the human race. Not only are they not read "clearly", almost all natural law theorists agree that, except for the very most general principles, they are very hard to think through. Ethics on a natural law account is as difficult as logic or mathematics; the very basics can be recognized fairly easily, but it gets difficult very, very quickly, and navigating it very far requires a lot of serious thinking. Getting to the roots of thinking necessarily involves a lot of thinking.

(3) While natural law theory is teleological, the teleology that matters is the teleology of practical reason, not just any kind of natural teleology. This is why, for instance, New Natural Law Theory, which deliberately avoids anything that even sounds like what is described in the above paragraph, is a genuine form of natural law theory -- while it minimizes teleological-sounding claims, it still regards practical reason itself as teleological, as every sane theory of practical reason does. One can argue -- and traditional natural law theorists sometimes do -- that this NNLT minimalism gives us an inadequate account of common good, but it doesn't affect NNLT's status as a natural law theory.

(4) Not only do natural law theorists not generally draw the conclusion "How nature is reveals how it should be", in the sense in which this would usually be meant, it is inconsistent with every form of natural law theory I have ever come across. Nature may be subject to any number of defects, aberrations, ludi naturae. Natural law theory is not about nature in general; it is only about human nature in a very, very specific and limited way; it is entirely and wholly concerned with what is natural to human reason.

But what is most wrong with the paragraph above is what it does not really mention at all. Any purported account of basic natural law theory that does not begin with a discussion of practical reason is already wrong. Any discussion of natural law theory that does not at any point talk about common good is already wrong. There are two things at the heart of any natural law theory: practical reason and good we share in common as human beings. In a discussion of natural law theory that is supposed to start with the basics, you cannot avoid them, or you have substituted for natural law theory, as the above paragraph does, a completely fictional theory that's not actually natural law theory.

Now, of course, you can get at both of these things in indirect ways -- talk about basic goods, or sustainable and shared rational goals, or about the rational assessment of plans, or what have you. But both practical reason and common good have to be in there somehow.