Saturday, November 09, 2019

Music on My Mind

Gordon Lightfoot, "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald". The Edmund Fitzgerald left Superior, Wisconsin on the afternoon of November 9, 1975.

Lightfoot made a serious effort to be as accurate as possible, but there are always things missed or not known at the time, or are reworked a bit to fit the song, or that aren't wrong but potentially misleading due to compression. The Edmund Fitzgerald was actually bound for Zug Island near Detroit, its last cargo run before it returned home to Cleveland for the winter. "The Maritime Sailors' Cathedral" is really the Mariners' Church of Detroit; it still holds an annual memorial service, although now it is for all lives lost in the Great Lakes, not just for the Edmund Fitzgerald.

Friday, November 08, 2019

Dashed Off XXIII

This finishes the notebook completed in September 2018.

Three blocks may be so disposed as to hold a sheet stably when no single block can do so. Likewise multiple persons together may be so disposed as to do what no single person can do. (group agency)

Summative accounts of collective intentionality run into problems with cases in which the intentionality is organized deontically.

groups operating as instruments (armies for generals, etc.)

Memories often include references to other memories; this is a big part of remembering.

indexical, iconic, and symbolic memory

mediational approaches to apologetics: There are two opposing needs/tendencies requiring a mediating principle, such-and-such Christian doctrine or practice is capable of providing such mediation. (Cp Schleiermacher)

The vow of celibacy in the Latin Church is linked to the Latin Church's special charism of evangelization.

Symbolic theology teaches the right use of sensible things.

correlates in civil theology to theistic arguments in natural theology (e.g., Fourth Way / Aquinas on law; design / Maistre on British Constitution; etc.)

There is a dangerous tendency to take rights to be nothing other than powers to force others to do things. Rights can give title to coercion, but they are in fact not naturally expressed coercively -- coercion is remedial, not essential, to the right. The tendency also leads to overlooking that actions have to take into account all of the rights of all of the parties.

Sexual sins tend easily to breed sins of dishonesty.

At-at theories give implausible results when dealing with motion-through == something can be at x at t1 and at x at t2 and still be moving through x despite being at it at both times (which is just a matter of how you are measuring).

Never trust someone talking about development of doctrine if they are not also concerned about avoiding corruption of doctrine.

events that can only be understood as being 'on occasion' of something else: responses, reactions, jarrings, traveling changes

The love of human parents for their children is not mere affection but heavily deontic in character.

The most dangerous corruption is corruption under cover of good intentions.

the chosaliser of symbolism

Bodies are located by commensuration with containing dimensions; but location for other things is not so straightforward (cp. souls, Hume's taste of fig, angels, eucharist, electrons, legal entities).

Every sacrament is a kind of conversion to God.

our capacity to use our own presence (or communication thereof) as a sort of instrument, particularly in interacting with others (e.g., using one's being here to console)

One of the things that seems to have worked very well for Fabius Maximus was his recognition of religion's power to 'reset' a people so that they might rally anew.

Christ is Prophet, Priest, and King, but each as a unique limit case, in a way eminenter, for he fulfills all three not in servile mode but in filial mode.

One of the oddities of human society is that people will actively punish unusual self-restraint.

Nietzsche has a fragment in which he classifies the Gospel of John as Dionysian.

The epistemic advantages of the margins are real, but they are at the margins.

To say that Christ's presence in the Eucharist is substantial is to say that His presence is not merely causal.

kinds of presence, with example
true, not real, not substantial: legal representation
true, real, not substantial: telepresence
true, real, substantial: personal meeting

Hunter-gatherers have a more active involvement in their environment than is usually assumed: they clear out undesirable vegetation and fauna, spread desirables by selective use and sometimes by seeding, and modify the environment to make resources more available.

In any frontier or wilderness setting, food-gathering tends toward an improvised mixture of hunt, trap, forage, farm, and herd. A pioneer wants as diverse a set of options available as is possible. Indeed, this extends well beyond pioneering; small farmers and the like still do this to some degree.

"All these philosophers, so much on guard against the truths that embarrass them, are, so to say, all open to error, if only it accommodates them." Maistre

internal sacramental abuses, with examples
--- (A) Incorrect
--- --- (1) Fake: invented rite of ordination for women
--- --- (2) Misapplied: correct rite applied to women
--- (B) Incomplete
--- --- (1) Impeded: anullable marriage
--- --- (2) Interrupted: marriage with no actual expression of consent
--- (A) Illicit: consecration by episcopi vagantes
--- (B) Unworthy: receiving consecration in a spirit of disobedience
[I and II are essentially different kinds of evaluation.]
[I is ordered according to severity]
[IIA and IIB, on the contrary, are not exclusive, and this is important: one may innocently do the illicit, due to ignorance, and one may do the licit unworthily, and one may do the illicit unworthily. So they are also essentially different evaluations.]

three distinct standards by which sacramental acts are evaluated: sacramental, jural, and moral

In addition to abuses internal to the sacramental act itself, there are external abuses, e.g., sacrilegious use of consecrated hosts -- that is, desecrations and mockeries.

Categorical and dispositional properties are the same things described differently.

the analogous supplementation principles for compossibility

Note that Austin recognizes infelicities that are not in his taxonomy (e.g., verdictives may be unjustified or incorrect despite being neither void nor insincere).

Because of its occasion, unction admits of cases that are possibly in some sense unjustified, but neither invalid nor illicit nor unworthy (e.g., perhaps the seriousness of the illness is overestimated in an understandable but avoidable way).

titles of interpretation

Idea, Energy, and Power in praying
scalene trinities in praying

Restorative justice requires a retributive framework.

In "Justice", George MacDonald fails to grasp that punishment can be just because it itself is part of resitution and restoration; he also fails to grasp that perpetrators, not merely victims, have a perspective, and perpetrators in being restored to justice recognize the justice of, and sometimes demand, being penalized. The punishment makes up the wrong to the perpetrator; it is the justice of it that makes it up to the victim. When a perpetrator repents, this contributes to reconciliation by admitting the wrong; when he begs forgiveness, this contributes by admitting the desert of punishment. Thus MacDonald's entire discussion is incomplete.

MacDonald's attack on spiritual adoption seems clearly to take it as a merely forensic notion. But this is not true even of human adoption.

Punishment is obviously part of the offset to transgression; this is recognized almost universally. MacDonald's error is to assume that this means nothing can substitute for it, or that being a genuine contributor to offset means being a necessary condition of it. This is because he actually has an extremely harsh conception of justice: if a perpetrator has suffered independently from his crime, he takes this to contribute *nothing* to how justice will work. But this again is almost universally recognized as false.

MacDonald also does not seem to grasp that the sin is the beginning of its punishment. (This is quite clear in his comment on Dante -- he does not recognize that the punishments are symbolic representations of the wrongness of the sins.)

religion beyond the bounds of reason alone (note that this necessarily includes history as well as tradition and mysticism)

responsibilities to parents // responsibilities to ancestors

modes of Christology: Christology proper, Mariology, mysteriology

Much modern political philosophy depends on taking the part for the whole: taking one part of the common good, for instance, as definitive of it.

Contractualism does not guarantee justice, but only the least injustice that could reasonably be had by negotiation.

presential self-knowledge vs common-sensible self-awareness

performatives as language operating in ritual space

'causal powers' of absences // movements of cracks

consent-based ethics as negotiated relativism, the attempt to have the benefits of relativism while avoiding pure social relativism and pure individualism

Nonconvergence arguments for anti-realism often conflate two different things:
(1) there being no objective fact of the matter, in which case talk of nonconvergence is itself as problematic as convergence
(2) there being an objective fact adequately in hand which could explain nonconvergence

winking, shrugging, etc., as micro-ritual

tacit consent as deemed consent

A priori and a posteriori are relative to method.

The subsidiarity of the Incarnation makes possible the solidarity of the Cross.

the layers of the external world (sensation, experience, ampliation)

On the Cross Christ descends into *our* dark night.

People consistently draw the wrong conclusions in Dutch Book Arguments; the Dutch Book theorem establishes that some losses are guaranteed -- it is impossible to have unrestricted betting that does not overall incur guaranteed loss. Two ways to see this, with minor common assumptions:
(1) Betting does not occur in the realm of real numbers; probability does. Thus no betting can ever do more than approach probability theory to a certain degree.
(2) Some propositions, like "I will make no more bets", will not possibly conform to the requirement.
--The question is more complicated if betting is not unrestricted (since it depends on the restriction) or if you change how the probability theory is interpreted.

A rational agent whose sole aim was to maximize monetary profit would not do so by betting.

Grace burns before it saves.

"It is the great achievement of American civilisation that in that country it really is not cant to talk about the dignity of labour." Chesterton

Lust's greatest torment is chastity's expectation.

For every fact understood in context, there is a natural valuation for that context.

Every known proposition has a causa cognoscendi.

Mary participates in the passion of Christus patiens.

God must be judging His Church, given the theologians with whom we are stuck.

Lines in genealogical trees always involve a range of probabilities and, indeed, distinct kinds (because a genealogical record has multiple factors as testimonial and as evidential).

trying things out as the normal activity of the human mind

The assumption of compositionality in meaning tends to be applied without regard for functionality. But propositions are functional, not aggregative, wholes. Intersubstitutability is more like organ transplant than like switching out tiles on a floor.

All epicycles tend to correspond to real phenomena because their whole purpose in the model is to make the model better at tracking real phenomena.

ampliation and the non-univocity of truth value assignments

Rights must be adorned with beauties or people do not defend them.

A society needs people both to come together easily and to be insulated from each other's mistakes and aggressions.

What we call 'human dignity' is sometimes integral humanity, sometimes the possibility of it, sometimes the power of either to signify divinity.

sympathetic knowledge as quasi-presential

Survival is incremental and cumulative in nature.

the person as such -- the jural person -- symbolic vestment of person -- honor as witness to person -- protective circumstances of person (personal environment)

The words of absolution in penance are verdictive and exercitative.

A geneaological tree should be seen as a system of hypotheses confirmed by (usually) testimonial evidences.

The descent into hell is an illumination of souls. (ST 3.52)
the descent into hell & preaching (1 Pt 3:18-20; 4:6)

"The nineteenth century prided itself on having lost its faith in myths, and proceeded to put all its faith in metaphors." Chesterton

philosophy in theology like a curved four-dimensional space embedded in a ten-dimensional space

The standpoint of the martyrs is a eucharistic standpoint.

divertissement as a spreading out of attention and intention

Trading is by its nature a ritual interaction.

Economics is one kind of study of performatives and their results.

Trading failures
(I) misfires: purported trade but void
--- (A) misinvocations
--- --- (A1) nonplay: purported trade without the form of trade
--- --- (A2) misplay: purported trade but with wrong persons and circumstances
--- (B)
--- --- (B1) flaw: trade done incorrectly
--- --- (B2) hitch: trade not completed
(II) abuses: trade inviolation of the spirit of trade
--- (C1) fraudulent or forced
--- (C2) breached

People talk about free markets as if the markets were free, when in reality a free market is one in which the people are free.

"The soul does not die by sin but by impenitence." Chesterton

There is very little though in the politics even of very intelligent people.

"It was in itself a Christian miracle to make Paganism live." Chesterton

While there is a causal influence, the use of notes or a notebook is not merely causal; the notes/notebook are involved in our thinking and not merely an influence on it.
The physical notebook on its own lacks intentionality, nonderived content, or informational update, but using-the-physical-notebook has all of these things.

"...our vices are cured by the example of His virtues...." (Augustine)
"No sinner is to be loved as a sinner; and every man is to be loved as a man for God's sake, but God is to be loved for His own sake."

As morality is a higher advantage and wisdom a higher eloquence, so holiness is a higher morality.

Even among just societies there is gradation; for among just societies one may be more just than the other in this way or that. For there is a creativity to justice that seeks out new ways of being just.

The essential marker of an adequate philosophical account of disease is capturing the notion of something to be cured if possible. Any account that does not do this is already wrong, whatever strengths it might have in capturing other aspects.

accounts of disease based on harm, on failure of the necessary,, on lessening of quality, on nonfulfillment of end

The sacrament of confirmation constitutes the people of the Church as a spiritual militia.

onological principle of noncontradiction (Met 1005b19-23)
by abstraction ->
logical PNC (Met 1011b13-14)
both together by aptitude of intellect for truth >
psychological PNC (Met 1005b23-25)

ontological, logical, and psychological versions of PSR

Xunzi's account of li makes it (a) goal-directed (seeking after desires), (b) social (avoiding contentions), (c) structured (making divisions), and (d) traditionary (ancient kings).

li as that which is necessary for completion

probability: using possibilities to measure possibilities
time: using changes to measure changes
location: using regions (containers) to measure regions

x is a brute fact -> X is capable of being a brute fact -> There is something about X such that it can be a brute fact -> Something about X explains its possibly being a brute fact.

Either a brute fact is possible or it is not. If not, it is impossible. If so, it is either always possible or only sometimes possible. If always possible its possibility is a necessary truth, and is explained as such. If it is only sometimes possible, something must distinguish when it is possible from when it is not. Therefore even if there are brute facts, their possibility requires sufficient reason.

A single psychological study is not better than a common anecdote -- indeed, on its own, it is just an anecdote about a single artificially provoked case. The advantage over ordinary anecdotal evidence is pragmatic -- measurement allowing replication for further confirmation -- and not intrinsic evidential force.

"There is no rationality without turning to the infinite." Marion

Arguments are given on someone's behalf.

discovery strategies: (1) generalize; (2) apply; (3) divide; (4) analogize

"Human life is composed of small actions which accomplish great duties." Gerbet
"Each mark of contempt towards the poor contains a principle of infidelity and the germ of blasphemy."

Sincere joy or sorrow is given a transfiguration by music, becoming then something more easily shared.

"...learning is precisely learning to have a stopping point." Xunzi
"Speeches without proof, untested actions, and unprecedented plans -- the gentleman is careful of all such things."

When Xunzi says that human nature is bad, he takes it to be equivalent to saying that people who do not learn the good nor work at being good are bad.

making-possible, facilitation, making-probable, causation, determination, overdetermination

heresiological invasion, proliferation, metastasis

compatibilism and incompatibilism with respect to free will // compatibilism and incompatibilism with respect to chance

Dreyfus on expertise --
(1) novice : simple techniques and processes, explicit rules for use
(2) advanced beginner: expansion of technical repertoire and of judgment in application of rules
(3) competent: large number of rules requiring focused problem-solving and emotional engagement.
(4) proficient: problem recognition and classification increasingly automatic, as well as rule selection
(5) expert: immediate recognition and classification, passing easily to appropriate action

'the meaning of life': the structuring of the materials of life into means for an appropriate end, by that end
-- this is the broad sense (life given meaning), but we often use the phrase in a narrower sense that requires that the end be not only appropriate but also adequate. (Arguments that without God life has no meaning, for instance, are usually not saying that God is the uniquely appropriate end but that among appropriate ends, God is uniquely adequate.)

Institutes 4.2.1: Note that Calvin switches immediately from 'founded on the apostles and prophets' to 'founded on the doctrine of the apostles and prophets'.
Institutes 4.14.23-26: Calvin argues that the sacraments of the New Covenant are on a level with those of the Old. -- Note that this discussion is extensive and repeatedly echoed later; this is an essential element of his account. -- Note that he also puts Christian baptism and the baptism of John on a level (4.15.6-8), on similar grounds.

the ministries of the traditional minor orders
(1) porter: Christ cleansing the temple.
(2) lector: Christ reading Isaiah in the synagogue
(3) exorcist: Christ healing
(4) acolyte: Christ leading
(5) subdeacon: Christ washing the feet of the disciples
(6) deacon: Christ distributing at the Lord's Supper
(7) priest: Christ offering himself in sacrifice

Those not yet enlightened by the Spirit of God become teachable by reverence for the Church, through which the Spriit teaches, and thus submit to learn the faith of Christ from the gospel, which the Spirit through the Church preserves, proclaims, and preaches.

the Life of Christ as the general miracle: all miracles anticipate Christ, or memorialize Him, or are contained in or are expressive of the Life of Christ

"Grace does not come to man in the abstract, not because grace is limited in its power or efficacy but because there is no man in the abstract." Frederick Wilhelmson

intelligere est communicare

Experiment occurs within a field of observation, and thus depends on the kind of observation.
Duhem's theory of instruments and simulation as part of experimental context

works that express a philosophy vs. works that explore a philosophy

Doctor Subtilis

Today is the feast of Bl. John Duns Scotus, the Subtle Doctor. From Ordinatio IV, d. 46, q. 1:

Justice, properly speaking, is the rectitude of a will that has been habituated; consequently, it inclines quasi-naturally to another or to oneself as if to another. And the divine will does not have any rectitude that inclines it determinately to anything other than to its own goodness as if to another, for it is related only contingently to any other object, in such a way that it can incline equally to and to its opposite. It follows, therefore, that God has only one justice: the justice that inclines him to render to his own goodness what befits his goodness.

[John Duns Scotus, Selected Writings on Ethics, Williams, tr., Oxford University Press (New York: 2017), p. 323.]

Thursday, November 07, 2019

Another Poem Draft

Udayanācārya was a tenth-century Indian philosopher; his Nyayakusumanjali argues for the existence of Īśvara, who is cause, orderer, and sustainer of the world, the source of language, moral law, and rational thought, and the one who governs the workings of karma. I've come across a number of different versions of the legend of Udayana and the Buddhist, and have combined them.


Mighty of mind was great Udayana,
mighty in reason's ways;
his thought searched out the higher things
like hound that leaps and bays.
From lowest thing to holy God
in breadth and width and height
he walked on reason's highways
with reasons ever right.
Never wrong was great Udayana.
His inference was sure
and traveled straight like arrow-flight
and always would endure.
He was a great debater;
he could bring the point to close,
and the God-denying Buddhists
he held as his foes of foes.
Before the king of Mithila
he debated a Buddhist long.
His words were clear. His subtleties
and arguments were strong,
and at the end the Buddhist,
though for debate he had renown,
in defeat went to the highest cliff
and cast his body down:
ashamed of having been so wrong,
ashamed of his guilt and pride,
ashamed of having doubted God,
he leaped from the cliff and died.
Repenting, the great Udayana
went down to the temple-place
and before the God whom he had proved
he knelt and bowed his face.
The God gave not a whisper.
The silence was cool and cold,
and, anguished, great Udayana
spoke out in anger bold.
"My life has been a service,"
he said, "to lead minds to you,
and to the God-deniers,
I showed that you were true.
Why, then, are you silent?
My existence comes from yours,
but by my proof and reasons
your name with men endures."
Then a dream came to Udayana.
The God spoke the word, "Unclean,"
and a storm rose through the temple
and shook the temple-screen.
"You may argue, O Udayana,
and your arguments are sure,
but this is also true of God:
the God is wholly pure.
Let us take a proof, Udayana;
I will give it in a tale,
and by my proof know that proof
may, impure, come to fail.
A philosopher like Udayana
when Brahman and Buddhist fought
led them to the mountain
and gave them the proof they sought.
Down he threw the Brahman.
'There is a God,' the Brahman said,
and set down like a downy feather,
unscratched in limb and head.
Again he threw the Buddhist,
who said to the wind that sighed,
'There is no God, all things must end,'
and, ending, the Buddhist died.
It was a certain proving,
in a way that none could hide,
with only one objection:
that the Buddhist monk had died.
And from the sun of heaven
the fire of judgment fell
and cast impure philosopher
into deepest pits of hell.
God is most pure, Udayana,
the greatest eminence of holy life,
and shuns the bloody-handed
and the stirrer-up of strife.
Unfit are you, great Udayana,
though the truth may crown your head,
for though you spoke the truth of God,
by you man's blood is shed.
You have argued with godlike splendor
and your fellow men have awed;
your word of truth was light to man,
but darkness to the God."

Rack All the Sky, and Tear It into Shreds

A Thunderstorm at Night
by Eric MacKay

The lightning is the shorthand of the storm
That tells of chaos; and I read the same
As one may read the writing of a name,—
As one in Hell may see the sudden form
Of God's fore-finger pointed as in blame.
How weird the scene! The Dark is sulphur-warm
With hints of death; and in their vault enorme
The reeling stars coagulate in flame.
And now the torrents from their mountain-beds
Roar down unchecked; and serpents shaped of mist
Writhe up to Heaven with unforbidden heads;
And thunder-clouds, whose lightnings intertwist,
Rack all the sky, and tear it into shreds,
And shake the air like Titans that have kiss'd!

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Two New Poem Drafts

Anton Wilhelm Amo

Spirit is purely active;
the senses do not bind it.
Who can bow to fate is wise,
having an inkling of God;
his words will be remembered
to everlasting ages.

Star of Ghana, Axim's child,
rising in all-circling sky
above the lands of the earth,
shine splendidly! None may doubt
your contribution of light
which, joined to uncounted stars,
light the night of human life.


In the darkness I have walked down the highway,
in the shadows have been lost on the byways,
yet I never lost the calling;
I could hear it through the night.
Even friendless I would journey with boldness,
hug myself tightly to fend off the coldness,
though I did not know the ending
or what would come with morning's light.

Now my steps beat on their way
and I face the coming day;
soon the light will shine at dawn;
I will then be home.

I have been lost more times than I could tally,
but every time I have learned how to rally;
Though oft heaven's dove descending
was the one thing to put me right.
Simple things were what would shield me from madness,
though heaven knows I still have tasted of sadness;
through it all I heard a singing
that stirred my heart to rise and fight.

Step by step I make my way;
may I soon see light of day!
Surely when I see the sun
I will then be home.

When you are lost and burdened with confusion,
facing problems in an endless profusion,
hear the music slowly building;
listen well and find your way.
Though the chill may be gusting and blowing,
though your pace by doubt may even be slowing,
let there be no pause or ceasing:
journey on to find the day.

As you walk, you learn the way;
step by step draw near to day.
Surely when you see the sun
you will then be home.

Queen Anne, Tea, and Coffee

Anne's Tory friends did not make her happy; they used to quarrel among themselves and frightened her; and after one of their disputes she had an attack of apoplexy, and soon died of it, in the year 1714.

It was during Anne's reign that it became the fashion to drink tea and coffee. One was brought from China, and the other from Arabia, not very long before, and they were very dear indeed. The ladies used to drink tea out of little cups of egg-shell china, and the clever gentlemen, who were called the wits, used to meet and talk at coffeehouses, and read newspapers, and discuss plays and poems; also, the first magazine was then begun. It was called "The Spectator," and was managed by Mr. Addison. It came out once a week, and laughed at or blamed many of the foolish and mischievous habits of the time. Indeed it did much to draw people out of the bad ways that had come in with Charles II.

From Charlotte M. Yonge, Young Folks' History of England.

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Poisoning the Wells

Douglas Walton, Informal Logic: A Pragmatic Approach (Cambridge UP (New York: 2010) p. 189) on the fallacy of poisoning the well:

The term is supposed to have been originated by Cardinal Newman, when he was confronted by the argument that, as a Catholic priest, he did not place the highest value on the truth. The allegation was that since Cardinal Newman was personally biased towards the Catholic position, he could not be relied upon a source of fair or impartial argument.

This is a somewhat oddly understated way of putting it. Kingsley's accusation in the dispute was not that Newman was biased because he was Catholic; it was that Newman was dishonest because he was Catholic. As he put it,

I am henceforth in doubt and fear, as much as any honest man can be, concerning every word Dr. Newman may write. How can I tell that I shall not be the dupe of some cunning equivocation, of one of the three kinds laid down as permissible by the blessed Alfonso da Liguori and his pupils, even when confirmed by an oath, because 'then we do not deceive our neighbour, but allow him to deceive himself?'

To this, Newman replied,

But what shall I say of the upshot of all this talk of my economies and equivocations and the like? What is the precise work which it is directed to effect? I am at war with him; but there is such a thing as legitimate warfare: war has its laws; there are things which may fairly be done, and things which may not be done. I say it with shame and with stern sorrow;—he has attempted a great transgression; he has attempted (as I may call it) to poison the wells....[W]hat I insist upon here, now that I am bringing this portion of my discussion to a close, is this unmanly attempt of his, in his concluding pages, to cut the ground from under my feet;—to poison by anticipation the public mind against me, John Henry Newman, and to infuse into the imaginations of my readers, suspicion and mistrust of every thing that I may say in reply to him. This I call poisoning the wells.

The claim that the tactic is 'unmanly', incidentally, is a swipe at Kingsley, who was famous as a member of the Muscular Christianity movement, devoted to the ideal of Christian manliness, and who often swiped at Catholic priests for being unmanly and feminine due to their celibacy and dishonesty.

In any case, the dispute, of course, was the occasion for and subject of Newman's autobiography, Apologia Pro Vita Sua, which is explicitly written to clear himself of any charge of untruthfulness on the subjects with which he had been arguing with Kingsley.

Sunday, November 03, 2019

Fortnightly Book, November 3

The next fortnightly book will be Charlotte Yonge's The Heir of Redclyffe. When Yonge published it in 1853, it became a worldwide bestseller, perhaps the most widely read contemporary fiction work in the world at the time. The protagonist, Guy Morville became a widely admired fictional hero among young men; young women cried over the sad turns of the tale. While Wilkie Collins didn't like the unrealistic characters, he was very much in the minority of the critics. It made Charlotte Yonge a lot of money and, what is more important, established her as one of the major authors of her day.

Yonge is not read all that much, anymore, perhaps because her High Church Anglo-Catholic values, for which she was famous, are not in fashion, or perhaps because she wrote eminent examples of a kind of novel that has itself fallen out of favor, or perhaps because people think that if they have Austen and Eliot and Dickens and Thackeray, they have enough. She wrote prolifically, everything from the novels for which is best known to her history of Greece for children, but very little of it is read or studied, except by a few devotees, and even then it is mostly The Heir of Redclyffe. But it's a good choice for a starting point; it was a novel that shaped a generation, and not an insignificant or unliterary generation, at that, and we will see how it reads.

H. P. Lovecraft, The Whisperer in the Darkness


Opening Passage: From "Dagon", the first story in this collection:

I am writing this under an appreciable mental strain, since by tonight I shall be no more. Penniless, and at the end of my supply of the drug which alone makes life endurable, I can bear the torture no longer; and shall cast myself from this garret window into the squalid street below. Do not think from my slavery to morphine that I am a weakling or degenerate. When you have read these hastily scrawled pages you may guess, though never fully realise, why it is that I must have forgetfulness or death. (p. 3)

Summary: Lovecraft develops the horror atmosphere for his stories in three ways, all three of which are actually strengthened, I think, by his famous purpureal polysyllabery. First, there's the obvious attempt, sometimes successful, sometimes not, to appeal to disgust mechanisms. In "Dagon", for instance, we get "half sucked into a slimy expanse of hellish black mire", "rotting soil", "putrid with the carcasses of decaying fish", "nauseating fear", "dead things", "the odour of the fish", all setting the mood in the first couple of pages. He, of course, uses a very wide palette of the disgusting, including colors that probably did more to play to Lovecraft's own oddities than to most of his readers'; obviously his racial disgusts are not universals, but he has a number of others that have probably always been regarded by readers as curiosities despite being treated by him as a disgust-colors -- his treatment of any mathematics beyond the most simple as not just weird but disgusting and nauseating is a good example, since while I think his treatment of strange geometries has often helped increased the sense of the alien among his readers, I imagine very few have had the response of actual disgust for which he seems in some cases clearly to be aiming. The disgusting, of course, is a common way to try to make a story a horror story, but Lovecraft is genuinely quite good at it. He can lay it on thickly at times, but he makes no attempt to use it constantly. And his complicated and somewhat stilted prose does a lot to help it. I happened to re-watch the movie Alien while reading these stories, and was struck by how the movie, one of the best horror movies ever made, is, despite having a very non-Lovecraftian setting and characterization, nonetheless is an excellent attempt to capture the handling of disgust in a Lovecraftian way. Viewers don't get a constant stream; everything is built slowly, and by punctuating quiet stretches, which makes the disgust-episodes all the more effective. Lovecraft's style of prose works the same way to insulate his disgust-episodes so that each one counts all the more.

Second, while Lovecraft uses disgust-horror quite liberally, most of the actual horror is literary, not biological. Lovecraft's stories are not isolated units. They draw on a (mostly) literary background that is presumed to be shared. Lovecraft is specifically writing for an audience that loves an already existing literary genre of weird stories, and he layers his own tales with allusions and references to the corpus of that genre. At the Mountains of Madness is a really good example of this, with sentences like "Here sprawled a Paleaeogaean megalopolis compared with which the fabled Atlantis and Lemuria, Commoriom and Uzuldaroum, and Olathoe in the land of Lomar are recent things of today -- not even of yesterday; a megalopolis ranking with such whispered pre-human blasphemies as Valusia, R'lyeh, Ib in the land of Minar, and the Nameless City of Arabia" (p. 317). That's Theosophy (Atlantis and Lemuria), Clark Ashton Smith (Commoriom and Uzuldaroum), Lovecraft himself (Olathoe in Lomar, R'lyeh, Ib in the land of Minar, the Nameless City), and Robert E. Howard (Valusia) all in a single sentence. And of course, the novella is heavily inspired by Edgar Allan Poe, drawing from Ulalume and The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. This intertextuality, of course, is the foundation for the 'Mythos' aspect of Lovecraft's work. Horror is a tree that grows from memory; it comes from suspense and disgust interacting with a sort of dark nostalgia by which one remembers previously scary events or tales of monsters. The frightening character of a monster story largely builds on the memory of frightening monster stories. But it takes a certain art to integrate this kind of nostalgic allusion, and Lovecraft's style helps him here, as well, by allowing endless name-dropping and allusion-dropping that doesn't seem out of place.

Third, Lovecraft is a genius at description of scenery. This is, I think, not sufficiently appreciated. People mock Lovecraft's thickly wrought prose, but there are kinds of description for which it is excellent, and there are very few people who are up to Lovecraft's level when it comes to describing scenery. It's a pity that he lived pretty much all of his life in New England, because he would have been a travel writer like no other. Scenes of mountains and villages and trees are not, as they would be in most writers, merely 'there'; they are active participants in the story, rich with mood, carrying a message.

Of the stories in this anthology, far and away the best is the "The Dunwich Horror". It has the richest story-structure, the most engaging characters, and the best use of Lovecraft's talent for scenery. It flows quite smoothly, lacking the occasional tediousness of the early parts of The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, and it strikes an excellent balance between the said and the unsayable (which I don't think At the Mountains of Madness quite manages). It also doesn't depend on gimmick quite as much as some of Lovecraft's other memorable stories. I particularly liked how it was layered, with the interwoven mysteries of Dunwich and the Whately family, and the mystery of Wilbur Whately building to the mystery of the thing in the house.

I addition to the reading itself, I listened to two radio adaptations. The first, one that was made relatively recently, was Atlanta Radio Theater Company's "The Call of Cthulhu", which was pretty straightforward and relatively faithful. They did a very good job with the first part, but not surprisingly had considerable difficulty once the story began getting to R'lyeh and Cthulhu himself. Nonetheless, it interested me enough that I will probably at some point listen to their versions of "The Dunwich Horror" and At the Mountains of Madness.

The second was the Suspense epsiode, "The Dunwich Horror", which starred Ronald Coleman and aired November 1, 1945:

It adapts quite freely and necessarily cuts much of the story out in order to fit it into half an hour, but it did an excellent job with the fragments it used.

If you're interested in just an overview, the Hodges recommended the following video, which I also found amusing:

Favorite Passage: From "The Dunwich Horror":

As the hills draw nearer, one heeds their wooded sides more than their stone-crowned tops. Those sides loom up so darkly and precipitously that one wishes they would keep their distance, but there is no road by which to escape them. Across a covered bridge one sees a small village huddled between the stream and teh vertical slope of Round Mountain, and wonders at the cluster of rotting gambrel roofs bespeaking an earlier architectural period than that of the neighbouring region. It is not reassuring to see, on a closer glance, that most of the houses are deserted and falling to ruin, and that the broken-steepled church now harbours the one slovenly mercantile establishment of the hamlet. One dreads to trust the tenebrous tunnel of the bridge, yet there is no way to avoid it. Once across, it is hard to prevent the impression of a faint, malign odour about the village street, as of the massed mould and decay of centuries. It is around the base of the hips and across the level country beyond till it rejoins the Aylesbury pike. Afterwards one sometimes learns that one has been through Dunwich. (p. 179)

Recommendation: The anthology as a whole is Recommended; of the parts, "The Dunwich Horror" is Highly Recommended and the rest is Recommended.


H. P. Lovecraft, The Whisperer in the Darkness, Elliott, ed. Wordsworth Editions (Ware, Hertfordshire: 2007).