Saturday, October 22, 2022

Evening Note for Saturday, October 22

 Thought for the Evening: Pseudoplots

Aristotle in the Poetics famously identifies six poetic parts of tragedy: plot (mythos), character (ethos), thought (dianoia), diction (lexis), melody (melos), and spectacle (opsis). Of these, plot is the fundamental to the narrative, the first principle and soul of tragedy, as Aristotle puts it. Indeed, Aristotle's word for plot, mythos, just means 'story', particularly a story that clarifies or explains the nature of something. There are many things that can be called 'narrative' or 'story', but mythos is story in its purest and most perfect form. We have plot when we have the  plausible ordering of a complete action, with beginning, middle, and end, involving a complication that is turned into a resolution. In a tragedy, the mythos would literally be the myth of the gods or heroes that you are trying to tell. It is distinct from the chronological presentation of the narrative -- famously, the optimal way of beginning an epic is in medias res, in the middle of the plot, in the midst of the substance of the story -- but to have a mythos you need an identifiable beginning, middle, and end, regardless of the order in which you happen to be presented them.

Plots in the proper sense are very, very, very difficult to construct in a sophisticated way. Many genuinely great literary works have a very minimal plot, relying mostly on episode, that is, the material with which one fills the structure of the story. Aristotle captures this in his analysis of the plot of the long, sprawling narrative of The Odyssey: A man has been abroad a long time; he is trying to get home but Poseidon is opposed to him; meanwhile at home, his wealth is being wasted and his son's death is being plotted by men trying to marry his wife; after terrible suffering, he finally comes home; there he reveals himself and saves himself by killing his enemies. "All the rest," Aristotle says, in what I firmly believe is an example of the dry sense of humor that comes through even in lecture notes like the Poetics, "is episode." Homer had to pull together a very large number of episodes to construct a plot you can tell in a few lines. 

I said above that there are uses of the term 'narrative' or 'story' that are not the same as the story that we find in plot, and one of the very common problems people today have in writing is that they are constantly confusing plots with something that is not a plot at all -- namely, a character arc. Unsurprisingly, character arcs belong not to the plot but to the character element of the narrative, but they do have a narrative structure: the character starts out one way and through responses to events ends up another way. Character arcs are, as Aristotle would put it, episode, not plot. Indeed, we can describe a character arc as a series of episodes ordered in such a way as to make sense of a change in attitude or motivation. You can have very good stories with no character arcs at all, because plot does not depend on character arc. The reverse is closer to being true: a character arc is built by ordering the response of the character to actions and events, and thus in stories with a plot, the character arc just is the character's response to the action of the plot. You can indeed have character arcs that are detached from the plot, and these are not uncommon in highly episodic forms of narrative, like TV shows. Even such character arcs, if genuinely well constructed, suggest at least the ghost of a plot, however.

Because a very large portion of the narrative art that people read and watch today is highly episodic, people today commonly confuse plot and character arc. This is one reason, I think, for the proliferation of badly constructed stories. Plot, again, is very difficult to construct properly; truly good writers sometimes struggle with it. If you can't tell the difference between plot and character arc, though, the task becomes literally impossible. On the other end, people who can't tell the difference between plot and character arc are practically shut out of an entire aspect of the narrative, which means that their judgments of the quality of a narrative are defective. They would contest that claim, of course, but in reality, you have only to look at the result of such writers and such an audience. In such narratives, events happen so that the character can do what the writer wants the character to do. If the narratives rely on a few events or on very ordinary events, this is not necessarily fatal -- your narrative, properly developed, still then has a chance of being an excellent character study, and that's not a small thing. You can have a great story, in a broad sense of the term, without much that is the story, in the sense of a proper plot. 

However, the bolder the events get, the more you court disaster. This results in the widely recognized problem of narratives that end up being a string of incoherent, implausible, impossible, or absurd events. A problem with the recent Rings of Power television series is precisely that Season 1 is held together not by a plot but by Galadriel's character arc, with the result that the events make no sense as a whole because a character arc simply cannot do what a plot does. This contrasts with, say, Babylon 5, a work of art in which the distinction between plot and character arc is well respected. That series has a well-defined plot both by season and as a series, its episodes are tightly plotted (i.e., a very large portion of episodes contribute something to the construction of that plot), and, as an ensemble story, the responses of various characters to the action of the plot constitutes multiple character arcs moving through that well-defined structure. The character arc of (to take just one example) G'Kar is not the plot of Babylon 5, but it is immensely satisfying because the plot guarantees that everything in the character arc makes complete sense; on the other side, the weaving of that character arc through a well-defined plot framework does a great deal to bring the story home and give us personal investment in it.

Character arc, then, is a pseudoplot that arises from the interaction of one part of the narrative, character, with the plot, or at least the kinds of action or actions that in competent hands would serve as the materials of an actual plot. This raises the question of whether there are other kinds of plot-like non-plots, pseudomythoi, arising from the interaction of the other poetic parts with plot or at least the materials for plot. When we ask this question, I think it becomes obvious that there are, and indeed, we talk about them sometimes.

Melody (melos) literally means something like musical phrasing, and obviously music is multifarious. However, we do speak of music narratively. That you can have music with narrative structure is knowledge so old we do not know when it was discovered; since the Viennese Golden Age, much of our music has been deliberately designed to have something like a narrative structure, to such an extent that music that definitely has no narrative structure sometimes sounds odd to our ears. This just means that music can easily be part of a narrative. But in being part of a narrative, melos can interact with mythos to create a pseudoplot. This is something with which we are very familiar, since one of our most popular modern arts, cinema, makes extensive use of it, and even gives us a name for it: soundtrack. It consists in the musical response to the action or actions of the narrative. We are, thankfully, prevented by a number of things from confusing plots and soundtracks, although you can have narrative held together by soundtrack -- perhaps the most famous and successful example in cinema being Disney's 1940 film, Fantasia. In such a case your narrative doesn't hang together much as a story, but it can still be an excellent study of musical change and mood. As with character arcs, though, soundtrack achieves its perfection in subordination to plot, and for the same reason: the plot makes the soundtrack intelligible, the soundtrack makes the plot sensible.

As with melody, spectacle (opsis), which literally means a view or appearance, interacts with action or actions to build a plot-like non-plot. Cinema is a field in which this has at times been taken almost to perfection. In a movie, we are not usually seeing events as we would see them; rather, we are getting fragmented showings of things -- scenes -- that are distinct of themselves. This makes the narrative more manageable as to time and space (a continual problem in cinema), and makes it possible to show things that are not amenable to straight viewing. However, sharp, jarring transitions between distinct scenes cause problems -- nobody has a problem with transition as such, but something has to bind both sides of the transition together. So competent directors attempt to create a visual narrative that is continuous through the scenes, or at least one that is conveyed by visual patterns and recurrences across scenes. The most basic are things like panning the camera; various fades and cuts give a way to make the transition in a way appropriate to the story; when scenes are set up visually, the end of one scene often has at least a token something-or-other that is visually in common with another scene. And of course, one does not merely use the visuals to maintain continuity, one uses them to support the story. Steven Soderbergh, when he tries to explain this, makes use of a version of Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, cutting out all the sound. When you do that, you still get a narrative, despite losing a lot of information about the plot: the visuals are at all times very clear and striking and the transitions are smooth and give a sense of being carried forward in a narrative despite the fact that the scenes are representing all sorts of different locations. Raiders of the Lost Ark would be a masterpiece of spectacle pseudoplot even if we lost the sound, did not know the plot beforehand, and only had extended fragments without context.

You'll notice I skipped two of the parts, thought (dianoia) and diction (lexis). Novels and television shows guarantee that we know about character arcs; cinema has proven conclusively that there are soundtracks and spectacle pseudoplots. But while thought is certainly part of all of these, arts with a clear and obvious dianoetic pseudoplot are somewhat difficult to find -- it just seems harder to see the thematic narrative than a character arc, for instance. Nonetheless, while it's not always obvious, we can with some care recognize them in novels, television shows, plays, and movies. Dianoetic pseudoplots have a problem-solution structure, and the plot-likeness comes from how these are broken up into stages. The Lord of the Rings has a plot that is about taking the Ring to Mount Doom; it has a thematic narrative concerned with the problem of pride and its resolution in friendship and pity. 

Joe versus the Volcano is a movie with an unusually robust dianoetic pseudoplot or thematic narrative: People who do not know who they are cannot make real personal connections, but knowing who you are seems to be something we develop through real personal connection. That is the thematic problem. The thematic solution is ultimately doing something great with our life in a way that overlaps with someone else's doing something great with their lives, and the full resolution of the problem -- two people knowing who they are in a real personal connection -- is symbolized by the actual jump into the volcano. But this solution and resolution is built in stages: Joe is shocked into recognizing that he can't bear to die without having done something truly bold, then he interacts with three women. The three women are all very similar -- the first two are the not-quite-rights in the personal connection for which he is searching -- and there is a building progression among them that corresponds to and reflects Joe's own building progression in solving the problem: the woman whose bold act is just to say yes to a date, the woman whose bold act is expressed in her (derivative) style and art, the woman who is sailing on the ocean, all of them facing the same problem as Joe at a given stage.

Diction pseudoplots are harder yet, in part because I think diction is much more closely linked to character than to plot, but I think we do see them -- narratives sometimes shift in tone. I think this is most visible in epics, in part because they give us so much material to work with. We see this in The Lord of the Rings, again: we move back and forth from colloquial and sublime styles. Diction also helps express mood, so we get shifts of mood depending on the kinds of situation through which the action runs. 

I recently re-watched The Expanse and am currently going through audiobook versions of the books. The books have some advantages over the series, but one point on which the television series has so far done much better than the books is on the lexical narrative. There is some variation in the narrator-voice, presumably because of how the book was written -- James S. A. Corey is actual two co-authors who work out a basic story together, then divide it up into chapters with viewpoint characters, each author taking different characters, after which they revise cooperatively -- but it doesn't really progress at all, and the diction of the books is remarkably flat. One aspect of this that I find a little jarring is that characters rarely modulate their cursing according to situation. I don't care how far in the future we go, watching your language around people on whom your livelihood or status depends is universal. The only one who really noticeably does this, though, is Chrisjen Avasarala when talking to her superiors -- and since she doesn't have many superiors, that is not often. I know oil toughs and rednecks who have a better sense of when and how and in what company to swear than most of the characters. The series toned down the swearing, no doubt for practical reasons, and one of the results is that the lexical narrative makes much more sense -- people swear with people they know, they swear in moments of intensity, and while Avasarala still swears like a sailor in inappropriate situations, she's the only one who does, and it highlights both her status (she can get away with it) and her frankness (she speaks her mind) and the fact that she's often talking to people about extremely serious situations (the swearing makes sense in context). And because people aren't swearing so much, it's easier to distinguish manners of talking and how they relate to the events that are happening. That's a small lexical point in works that have a lot of speech, but it shows how the lexical narrative works: different ways people talk are like the conversational soundtrack.

There are many complications that arise with all of these pseudoplots. But, in any case, this is enough to establish their existence.

Various Links of Interest

* "The Neglected Books Page" looks at Sigrid Undset's early novel, Jenny.

* Sacheen Littlefeather was famous as a Native American celebrity and activist, but information has come to light that suggests that she was not Native American at all. Jacqueline Keeler, a Navajo writer who has been investigating the phenomenon of non-Indians pretending to be Indian, lays out the reasons to think this the case. She has family members who claim it was made-up, there is no record of her family having any connection with the Apache, and some of the claims she made don't seem to fit the facts.

* Amrouche Moktefi & Jens Lemanski, On the Origin of Venn Diagrams (PDF)

* David Landy, Is Shepherd a Bundle Theorist? (PDF)

* Greg Bamford, Function and Forethought in Design (PDF)

* Eddy Keming Chen, The Simplicity of Physical Laws (PDF)

* Boris Hennig, Aitiai as Middle Terms (PDF)

Currently Reading

Thomas Joseph White, OP, The Trinity: On the Nature and Mystery of the One God
John C. Wright, The Vindication of Man
Christian Raab, OSB, Understanding the Religious Priesthood: History, Controversy, Theology
Rod Girle, Modal Logics and Philosophy
James S. A. Corey, Caliban's War (audiobook)

Where Love and Slumber Are the Same

by Clark Ashton Smith 

The blood of wounded love is on your leaves, October,
And in your seaward wind the sigh of love foredone:
Though I should fold them round me, cerement-like and sober,
In all your mist and rain is no oblivion,
Where memory clings the closer for the perished sun.
The blood of wounded love is on your leaves, October. 

 By you I am betrayed to all my memories,
Autumn, whose cleaving colors are a fallen sword!
Your distant vales are blue as Aidenn, yet no ease
I find therein, but pain against my coming stored:
Autumn, whose heart is one with all lost things adored,
By you I am betrayed to all my memories. 

I would the mounded snow of mountains hyperborean
Were heaped upon your latest ember, quenching it!
In some tremendous world of ice, or world marmorean,
I would entomb for aye my fevers infinite:—
Yea, well it were to lie in frozen sleep unlit
Beneath the mounded snow of mountains hyperborean. 

Ah, that my love and all your leaves, on Lethe drifting
Were borne, and cast upon the secret isles of sleep,
Where love and slumber are the same, and suns unlifting
And gods and men go down to quaff the dreamless deep:
Autumn, I would that thou and I were one in sleep,
With this my love and all your leaves on Lethe drifting.

Friday, October 21, 2022

Two Poem Drafts


Water from a tower-height
is falling in the brightening dawn;
down it flows in flawless light
a gemlike glitter, icy glaze,
a spirit-fire with brilliant blaze,
with flurried laughter bright of smile
interweaving solar rays.


We were walking by the sea-side, we were walking on the shore,
hand in hand we walked together by the waves of evermore.
Mists were rising from the foaming, mists of visions hundredfold,
dreams both cruel and soul-enticing, dreams both tentative and bold.
Look with trembling to the future! Bright its gild, like neon light,
gaudy in its surface-freedom, filled with hidden fears of night,
filled with poisons in the water, toxins in the air and bread,
filled with words of such dark venom as to kill a stranger dead.
Easy it must be to murder when machine fulfills the deed
as you go about your business, giving it no further heed:
one command and cities crumble, one command and tyrants fall,
one command and flame from heaven fire-enfolds us, one and all.
See the human spirit pacing through the world with hungry growl;
sons of Cain, we seek to murder, hunting prey with wolvish howl.
Man and woman, child and infant, fetus growing in the womb --
wolves will come, for wolves devour, wolves are allies to the tomb.
Turn your head and see the glory of the parliament of man.
Words of peace on one side mouthing, cunning minds with hate will plan.
Lies are like our nursery-language; easily they spirit forth.
Words we must confine to truth or they will show a devil's worth.
Titans once stole heaven's fire, giving thought to change the world;
deep within the gift was chaos, like a serpent tightly curled:
visions clash with other visions, each in civil war with each;
we are cursed with many futures, harmony just out of reach;
we are caught in contradictions, trying opposites to press.
Goddess fortune plays her havoc; all is canceled, none are blessed.
We were walking on the sea-strand, strolling on the tumult-shore,
hand in hand in quiet walking, mists of futures to ignore.

Dashed Off XXV

 theistic argument from evil  -- SCG 3.71.10

"Ecclesia militans a triumphanti Ecclesia per similitudem derivatur." SCG 4.76.5

All philosophy in its perfection becomes something shared.

"Conflicts that do not arise organically will never be resolved fruitfully." MacIntyre

nonexistence proofs
(1) intrinsic impossibility
(2) extrinsic impossibility
(3) universal lack of indication

human nature -> civil society -> principles of civil theology
human rights as elements in civil theology

The survival of the Jews must be either (a) luck or chance, (b) by product of some durable feature plus luck, or (c) providential (which may include subordinate chance or byproduct elements).

The general thrust of society seems to be toward more restricted access, as the free gains a price, as the unregulated becomes the regulated, as the new becomes structured by custom, as the low bar becomes through competition a high bar. It takes a great deal to overcome this, and attempts often backfire (as when making public pay toilets free led to fewer public toilets).

virtue as a voluntary nature completing our natural volition

the combinatorial variation approach to experiment vs. the hypothetical prediction approach to experiment

the notion of 'a study' in scientific investigation -- not synonymous with experiment or observation (can include both and multiple forms of both)

Educational institutions come in ecosystems.

the curious phenomenon of condemnation by counterfactual (they would have done bad thing if something different had happened)

hard fact / soft fact distinction for modalities other than time

Most of what we call belief is a sort of quasi-ritual of affirmation.

The drive to religious unification is almost universal, but there are widespread differences in views of appropriate means, with the three most common being:
(1) conversion
(2) abstraction
(3) supersession
To which we can add the view that no human means will suffice but that the unity is eschatological in some way:
(4) consummation

All interpretation of Scripture depends on either precedent, allegory, or hypothesis.

Most monotheisms are insightful, and often show the marks of religious genius. Christianity is unusual in that its monotheism is not what one would expect from genius. The two possibilities are that it is less than genius (e.g., a byzarre hybrid of monotheism and polytheisms sprung up by happenstance and freak accident) or more than genius.

Publication is fancy dress; it is study that matters.

All political movements have their rodeo clowns.

Either (1) scientific progress has a terminal point; or (2) it has no end, not converging on anything; or (3) there is an intelligible to which it converges but which it never attains.

the scientific adventure story (Verne)
the scientific romance (Wells)
the scientific horror story (Shelley)
the story of science intersecting magic (Stoker)

unintended consequences as the paradigmatic SF plot turn

The past is the symbol of the future.

It's difficult for us to admit it, but in practical matters some problems are better endured than solved, given the solutions.

The power of a military or a police force to wield weaponry is merely the power of the people to do so, with special authorization for purposes relevant to the public good.

1880-1910 the golden age of utopian literature (the bulk of which was touched off by Bellamy's Looking Backward in 1888, and the ensuing 'battle of books' over competing social visions)

That a moral prohibition is accepted by a variety of widespread religions or philosophical views is reasonable evidence that something like it, at least in its vicinity, is part of natural law.

the problem of evading obligations by hypotheses
more generally, the problem of evading Box by constructing suppositions to evade it

usury as a perversion of reason qua negotiating and exchanging

usury of labor
-- Many Marxist criticisms of 'capitalism' are really criticisms of labor-usury.

All love has a religious tinge.

Vitruvian virtues: utilitas, firmitas, venustas

abstract paintings as paintings of painting

image of God -> intrinsic human dignity
role with respect to common good -> extrinsic human dignity

The action of meaning something is just the mind at work.

Given any common ground, there is a limited number of stable kinds of position reachable from that common ground.


pensare -> peser (to weigh) & penser (to think)
causam -> chose (thing) & cause
directum -> droit (right) & direct
integrum -> entier & int├Ęgre

"They [i.e., the saints] learn by lovign what they utter by teaching." Gregory the Great (Ez 1.5.16)
"The descent of Truth is the ascension of our humility."

The love that matters most is the love as vast as eternal life.

the Critique of Judgment as an exploration of good taste in scientific inquiry

Animals, including those with mutations harmful in their original situation, will tend to gravitate to those accessible situations that make their lives easiest.

cantharophily: pollination by beetles -- beetle-pollinated flowers tend to be white or cream-colored (beetles have poor vision, so flower needs clear contrast) and scentful (beetles usually have good sense of smell)
melitophily: pollination by bees -- bee-pollinated flowers tend to have strong UV profile, tend to be colorful, not heavily scented
myophily: pollination by flies -- fly-pollinated flowers tend to flower early or late, tend to be small (flies don't store nectar for young) and white/cream
psychophily: pollination by butterflies -- butterfly-pollinated flowers tend to be brightly colored and without much scent
phalaenophily/sphingophily: pollination by small moths (phal.) or large moths (sphin.) -- moth-pollinated flowers tend to be white/cream (moths are nocturnal), very scentful (moths have better sense of smell than butterflies), & heavy nectar producers (moths are less energy-efficient than butterflies, and often hover)
ornithophily: pollination by birds -- bird-pollinated flowers tend to be colorful, large, and very nectarful
chiropterophily: pollination by bats -- bat-pollinated flowers tends to be noctural and very scentful
*: pollination by non-flying animals -- such flower tend to be low and sturdy

The ecclesial generation will not pass away until all these things occur (cf. Mt 24:34).

potential dignity : actual dignity :: potential being : actual being

sacred sign
I. act of religio
II. divine gift
-- -- A. of covenant
-- -- -- -- 1. commemoration
-- -- -- -- 2. sacrifice
-- -- B. giving grace
-- -- -- -- 1. sealing
-- -- -- -- -- -- a. washing
-- -- -- -- -- -- b. anointing
-- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- laying on of hands with sign of oil
-- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- 2. by laying on of hands in itself (abstract anointing)
-- -- -- -- 2. adorning
-- -- -- -- -- -- a. repairing
-- -- -- -- -- -- b. enriching

matrimony as sign of character of Church itself?

that which is most sign
that which is most presence

Virtue works on society as a river affects the land.

king-subject: penance
father-son: baptism
elder-younger: unction
husband-wife: matrimony
friend-friend: confirmation, ordination

An effective course of study has a pacing and a rhythm.

Every ethical approach implies a symbolic universe.

person as subsistent dignity

hesperidium: fruit with leathery rather than fleshy rind (citrus)
pepo: berry-like fruit with hard outer wall (melons)
drupe: one or many carpels but only one seed (peaches, avocadoes)
aggregate drupe: (raspberries)

"Chemistry is math where the objects have strong personalities." John Carlos Baez

the front edge of science fiction: speculative use of current scientific ideas
the trailing edge of science fiction: prior science fiction tropes and ideas continued forward semi-independently of actual state of science

science exaggeration as a source of science fiction tropes

Trolley problems are episodes, not lives.

Prometheus, Matanshvan, Rabbit, Azazel: the worldwide trope of fire as stolen

addressing objections vs addressing alternative positions

res as presence

Some of Euclid's definitions are more necessary for interpretation than for proof.

things that are conceived not wholly through themselves nor wholly through another but with another

"Since a natural desire is not in vain, we can correctly judge that perfect beatitude is reserved for man after this life." Aquinas

Deliberate intentions or concrete mechanisms can be fought or influenced, or can be problems able to be solved; pervasive abstractions cannot be.

artifacts as points of interaction between intelligences

Sing, O Music Spirit, of the men who tread the Moon

Leonardo and the analogy between the mirror and the painted surface (the picture plane)

No literary source indicates all twelve labors, but we do have monumental evidence for all the Heraclean labors in the metopes of the Temple of Zeus in Olympia (about 450 BC).

life as the active conditions of the possibility of intelligibility

Consequentialism in general tends to encourage people to act on such imaginary consequences as they can convince themselves to believe, based on counterfactuals whose evidential basis is what is convenient for them to believe.

Everything 'is a religion' somehow, because religions are complex and meet up with every feature of life.

plausibility as an analogical inference concept

"the Son of Heaven, facing the four directions, communes with all without limit." Gongyang Commentary, 31st Year of Duke Xi

the Spring and Autumn Annals as "for bringing order to chaotic times, for making things right again" (Gonghyang Comm., 14th of Duke Ai)

"To begin well is common; to end well is rare indeed." Ode 255

The Romans seem to have inherited their sense of ceremony and enthusiasm for building from the Etruscans.

Science fiction grows out of the melding of the traditions of other world romance and utopian tale, combined with the use of tropes in Frankenstein. Note that Voyage to Arcturus and The Worm Ouroboros fit a little oddly into SF because they are throwbacks to older forms of other world romance.

The Etruscan gods seem generally to be shapeshifters; their names are usually gender neutral, early on they are not depicted at all, later they often depicted in both male and female forms, and some (like Vertumnus) are explicitly said to be protean.

Livy 42:20 on portents

The Argonauts succeed in their endeavors, but always at a lasting cost.

Fortune is room for irony.

The thing we quickly discover about mathematical intuition is that while it can go wrong, for many domains it or something to which it approximates is provably right much of the time.

point approximation vs processive approximation vs region approximation

Every truth has a sufficient reason for being true.

definition by approximation

All artifacts presuppose normativity.

necessity as flawless normativity

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

One City Alone to Men Is Kind

 Ballade of Travellers
by Charles Williams 

Names are written on maps unrolled
 Of shires and cities, great books are lined
With titles sounding as far bells tolled
 In hearts of romance on a veering wind;
 Yet when the homes of those words we find
How is their wizardry all undone!
 Hardly we say, as we walk resigned,
Through the whole world's towns is the Free Town one. 

 In a seven-nights' space is a new town old,
 Seven mornings teach us the ways that wind
To quay or market, to farm or wold,
 And lost are the ways that lie behind.
 Lucent no more are the bricks, or blind
Are we, and with memories overrun;
 We pine abroad as at home we pined:
Through the whole world's towns is the Free Town one. 

 Ports and the deep-sea boats they hold,
 High roads where vessels of traffic grind,
Hamlets which lanes or moors enfold,--
 None to the heart shall contentment bind:
 One city alone to men is kind,
 That is seen and seen not, and kept of none,
 Yet allwhere hath ever to earth inclined:
 Through the whole world's towns is the Free Town one. 


 Prince, whether we dwell in a street assigned
 Or wander under a changing sun,
This be the token that stills our mind:
 Through the whole world's towns is the Free Town one.

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Notable Links

 * Piotr J. Janik, Irrealia: F. Suarez's Concept of Being in the Formulation of Intentionality from F. Brentano to J. Patocka and Beyond (PDF)

* Jessica Gelber, Teleology and Understanding (PDF)

* There was a recent hubbub over environmentalists throwing tomato soup on a Van Gogh Sunflowers painting in a 'protest' against oil drilling. Some people (including the group that did it) tried to excuse it on the ground that the painting was protected by glass. But as others have noted, this is shortsighted -- museums prioritize accessibility, which means that the protections against vandalism are often only suitable protection for ordinary conditions, not things like having liquids thrown at them.. The glass won't necessarily protect the painting from moisture seeping through the edges, and of course the painting has to be cleaned very, very carefully to prevent the liquid from getting on the painting when the protective glass is removed -- which you have to do, because you can't just wipe it down, in case the liquid seeped in at the edges. And while people tend not to notice frames, good museum-quality frames are often very expensive, and sometimes they have a special historical connection with the painting, and of course frames are not protected by the glass. Moreover, tomato soup, which seems to have been used here, is acidic, and there is no telling beforehand how it (or even its fumes in close proximity) will interact with anything. In any case, Caroline Mimbs Nyce interviews a museum security guard in Just How Safe Is Great Art? at The Atlantic. The answer to the headline question is: much less than you might think.

* Folk Horror: An Introduction, by Andy Paciorek

* Nico Dario Muller, Korsgaard's Duties towards Animals: Two Difficulties (PDF)

* Austin Williams, A Love Letter to My Philosophy Students, on Occasion of a New Semester, at Macrina Magazine

* Fred Sanders, Trinity, Father, and "God" in John of Damascus

* Donald Wallenfang, The Abandoned: Toward a Christocentric Phenomenology of Prayer, at Church Life Journal. This is very interesting, but I think it has a weakness that often characterizes this kind of discussion, namely that it says 'prayer' but actually means a very specific form of advanced prayer that is quite removed from common experiences of prayer, which are much more likely to be captured by an ordinary phenomenology of interaction with signs and symbols or of imaginative reflection, combined with a trust that God will do whatever He deems best with it.

* Amanda Parrish Morgan, The Imperative to Buy the Best Stroller, at JSTOR Daily

* Anton Howes has been discussing the question, Why Wasn't the Steam Engine Invented Earlier? The essential elements required for a steam engine were in fact discovered long before the actual steam engine, so it's an interesting question. And one that requires a considerable amount of thought:
Part I
Part II
Part III

* Brad Skow discusses human characteristics in music, in Beethoven

Monday, October 17, 2022


 Today is the feast of St. Ignatius of Antioch, Bishop and Martyr. From his Epistle to the Trallians (Chapters 6-11):

I therefore exhort you, yet not I but the love of Jesus Christ, to use the Christian food alone, and to abstain from all strange herbage, which is heresy; the time that now is embraces Jesus Christ, not the devil. Do ye therefore, having again put on patience, refresh yourselves in faith, which is the flesh of the Lord, and love, which is the blood of Jesus Christ. Guard yourselves, therefore, against such as these. And this will happen unto you if ye be not puffed up, and separate not from our God Jesus Christ, and the bishop, and the commandments of the Apostles. He who is within the altar is pure; that is, he who doeth anything apart from the bishop and the presbytery and the deacons, he is not pure in his conscience. It is not because I have known anything of the kind in you, but I put you on your guard beforehand because ye are my beloved, foreseeing the snares of the devil. Do ye therefore, having again put on patience, refresh yourselves in faith, which is the flesh of the Lord, and love, which is the blood of Jesus Christ. Let none of you have aught against his neighbour; give no opportunities to the Gentiles, that the multitude which is in God may not be blasphemed for the folly of a few. For woe unto him, through whose foolishness my name among certain men is blasphemed. Be ye deaf, therefore, when any one speaketh unto you apart from Jesus Christ, who is of the race of David, who was born of Mary, who was truly born, ate and drank, was truly persecuted under Pontius Pilate, was truly crucified and died, in the sight of the things that are in heaven and on earth and under the earth; and was truly raised from the dead, his Father having raised him up; according to the similitude of which also his Father shall raise up us who believe in him in Christ Jesus, apart from whom we have not the true life. But if, as certain men who are without God, that is unbelievers, assert, his passion was an appearance, being themselves an appearance, why am I bound, and why do I pray to fight with wild beasts? therefore I die in vain. Of a truth, do I not lie against the Lord? Avoid therefore the evil branches that produce deadly fruit, of which if any man taste he dieth forthwith. These, therefore, are not the planting of the Father, for if they were they would appear branches of the cross, and their fruit would have been incorruptible, through which cross in his passion he exhorteth us who are his members. The head, therefore, cannot be born apart without the members, since God promiseth union, which is himself.

Sunday, October 16, 2022

J. R. R. Tolkien (with Christopher Tolkien), Unfinished Tales


Opening Passage: The book consists of a lot of different separate works. Hereis the opening of the first, "Of Tuor and His Coming to Gondolin":

Rian, wife of Huor, dwelt with the people of the House of Hador; but when rumour came to Dor-lomin of the Nirnaeth Arnoediad, and yet she could hear no news of her lord, she became distraught and wandered forth into the wild alone. There she would have perished, but the Grey-elves came to her aid. For there was a dwelling of this people in the mountains westward of Lake Mithrim; and thither they led her, and she was three delivered of a son before the end of the Year of Lamentation. (p. 23)

The Nirnaeth Arnoediad was the Battle of Unnumbered Tears, a devastating battle between the Elves and Morgoth in which the Elves and their allies only narrowly avoided complete destruction.

Summary: As Christopher Tolkien notes in his introduction, tales can be unfinished in different ways. You could have a tale that is an incomplete draft. You could have fragments that loosely indicate a tale without actually giving it, as in notes for a story. You could have stories that don't stand on their own, being backstory or sidestory, but by their nature are explanations of things in other stories. You could have kinds of scaffolding, whether in the form of fragments or backstory or sidestory, which aren't really quite a tale but are parts of the process of working out a tale. Unfinished Tales has all of these different kinds of unfinished tale.

My favorite part of the book is "Of Tuor and His Coming to Gondolin". I've noted before that the primary problem with The Silmarillion is its lack of balance. The dark tale of Turin, about the fall of Nargothrond, needs to be balanced structurally by the less dark tale of his cousin Tuor, about the fall of Gondolin, but we don't get this because the tale of Turin is mostly well developed while the tale of Tuor is hardly more than a summary. This was simply an artifact of the state of the manuscripts when Christopher Tolkien drew them together -- the tale of Turin had been developed further in a complete form than the tale of Tuor had. Tolkien had an idea of how the original complete story of Tuor should be developed and improved and had begun writing, "Of Tuor and the Fall of Gondolin" -- but the draft never got beyond Tuor arriving at Gondolin (hence Christopher Tolkien's change of the title). The incomplete draft shows us just how far the development of the story had grown in Tolkien's head, and it shows that what Tolkien would have eventually written would have been truly great. Alas, it was not to be so, but we can see the beginnings of it here. We also see something of how The Silmarillion might have ended up in the Narn i Hin Hurin, the tale of the Children of Hurin, about Turin. This is essentially a complete story whose draft-status is complicated -- parts of the story are highly revised and parts of it were clearly still undergoing the process.

Likewise, "Aldarion and Erendis", a tale of Numenor, and "The Disaster of Gladden Fields", telling of how Isildur lost the One Ring, are more or less complete as stories, but were still undergoing revision, so that parts are more advanced than others. "The Quest of Erebor" is a passage that Tolkien cut from The Lord of the Rings, in which Gandalf recounts how he came to send Bilbo on his adventure in The Hobbit, and "The Hunt for the Ring" seems to be a sort of scaffolding-story, again in various stages of development, by which Tolkien made his mind clearer about what exactly Sauron had done in searching for the Ring. 

"The History of Galadriel and Celeborn" and "Cirion and Eorl and the Friendship of Gondor and Rohan" are collections of fragments in which Tolkien attempted to work through the backstory of major elements in The Lord of the Rings. The latter is quite enjoyable if you like legendary history as a genre. "The History of Galadriel and Celeborn", however, is the least satisfactory of all the pieces in the book. The fundamental problem that Tolkien faced was that Galadriel is quite clearly the most powerful Elf left in Middle Earth in The Lord of the Rings, but Galadriel as a character was a very late addition to everything. Almost the entire history of Middle Earth had been worked out without having even thought of her, but obviously she had to have been around and could hardly have been unimportant, and the puzzle of what she was doing is one that Tolkien never worked out. He would try various things out in various contexts but (1) it seems sometimes to have literally just been trying something out (which Tolkien often did) and (2) it was often incidentally in the course of doing something else (e.g., writing an etymological essay on roots of Elven words), and these digressions were never brought together into any unified form. It's difficult to avoid the conclusion that Tolkien just did not have a real idea yet as to what to do here.

The rest of the works, "A Description of Numenor", "The Line of Elros: Kings of Numenor", "The Battles of the Fords of Isen", "The Druedain", "The Istari", "The Palantiri", are all tale-adjacent scaffolding works or partial tales worked out as part of historical or linguistic world-building. "The Istari" is the most interesting from the perspective of any interest in the legendarium of Middle Earth itself, but "The Druedain" is far and away my favorite of these side-works. It gives the background of Ghan-buri-Ghan's people, of whom we had such a brief but memorable depiction in The Lord of the Rings, as well as a couple of brief legends about them, and, brief as it is, in my opinion is the most fun of these unfinished tales.

I think it was Guy Gavriel Kay, who helped Christopher Tolkien with part of The Silmarillion, who said that one of the most important lessons he learned from Tolkien is just how much of the brilliance that went into Tolkien's epic fantasy was diligence -- that is, Tolkien didn't just write down the story but construct it, in the process requiring many drafts, revisions, false starts, and errors. The genuine Tolkienesque does not arise from simply putting down tropes on a page; it is a result of an extraordinarily intensive process of thinking through. One of things that makes Unfinished Tales valuable is its clear depiction of this. But, in part thanks to Christopher Tolkien's judicious selection and editing, it works as a fantasy book in its own right, and (as Christopher Tolkien himself notes), you can read it as a collection of disparate legendary traditions about the history of the Middle Earth, none necessarily 'canonically authoritative', but nonetheless at least suggestive of 'what may have happened' and interesting in their own right. I think Christopher Tolkien has done a great service in recognizing the potential of the unfinished tale as itself a great achievement of the narrative art.

Favorite Passage: My favorite passage, describing Tuor's journey through the Gates of the Hidden City, is too long to quote in full. Here is part:

So they came to the Golden Gate, the last of the ancient gates of Turgon that were wrought before the Nirnaeth; and it was much like the Gate of Silver, save that the wall was built of yellow marble, and the globes and parapet were of red gold; and there were six globes, and in the midst upon a golden pyramid was set an image of Laurelin, the Tree of the Sun, with flowers wrought of topaz in long clusters upon chains of gold. And the Gate itelf was adorned with discs of gold, many-rayed, in likenesses of the Sun, set amid devices of garnet and topaz and yellow diamonds. In the court beyond were arrayed three hundred archers with long bows, and their mail was gilded, and tall golden plumes rose from their helmets; and their great round shields were red as flame. (pp. 64-65)

Recommendation: Highly Recommended


J. R. R. Tolkien, Unfinished Tales, Christopher Tolkien, ed., HarperCollins Publishers (New York: 2000).