Saturday, May 13, 2023

Tarjei Vesaas, The Ice Palace


Opening Passage:

A young, white forehead boring through the darkness. An eleven-year-old girl. Siss.

It was really only afternoon, but already dark. A hard frost in late autumn. Stars, but no moon, and no snow to give a glimmer of light -- so the darkness was thick, in spite of the stars. On each side was the forest, deathly still, with everything that might be alive and shivering in there at the moment. (p. 7)

Summary: Siss is an eleven-year-old girl in a small town. One year, another girl of the same age, named Unn, moves into the area; her mother had recently died, so Unn is coming to live with her aunt. Unn does not participate much in school activities, preferring to remain at the edge of things, but Siss takes an interest in Unn, and they eventually meet one evening at Unn's house to spend some time together and get to know each other. They have a good time together, but at one point, Unn wants to tell Siss a secret, but backs down from doing so. She also says that she doesn't think she is going to heaven. This makes them both uncomfortable and shortly afterward the visit ends. The next day, Siss is eager to meet Unn at school; Unn, who wants to meet Siss again but is still unsettled from the night before, decides to skip school and go out to the 'ice palace', the frozen waterfall outside of town. Unn never returns, and the adults keep questioning Siss as to what she knows; but, of course, she doesn't know anything, and what is more, she feels some parts of their brief evening meeting need to be kept secret.

Some stories are not primarily plot driven; this tale has a very minimal plot, and even that seems to be a concession to the weakness of the reader. The author deliberately foils literally every possible attempt the reader could make to determine exactly what was going on. What was Unn's secret? Why does she think she is not going to heaven? Who is the 'other' that Unn keeps trying not to think about? What happened with Unn's mother? We never learn. We can get some hazy picture of some of it, but always shifting and never certain. There seems to be some connection between Unn and Siss that pre-exists their meeting (some readers have thought that maybe they are actually related, through Unn's unknown father); one wonders whether Unn had something to do with her mother's death, or was sexually abused, or had some other kind of trauma in her background. But the true point is that all of this is deliberately suppressed. Siss never learned Unn's secret; Unn's aunt never knew quite what was going on with her; the narrator never gives us enough to fill in the details and, indeed, deliberately complicates various possible hypotheses we might have. The whole point, I think, is to look at the fact that we know very little of each other. Everyone you meet, everyone you know, has their secrets; most of them you will never know.

The plot is very limited. There is, however, a well defined character arc, which is a pseudoplot concerned not with the narrative of a story but with the change of a character across it, in this case Siss's dealing with Unn's disappearance. The landscape itself also seems to represent Siss's arc symbolically, first ice, then snow, then finally the melting of the ice palace. Indeed, at times it's unclear whether we are ever getting outside of Siss's head and imagination; the story is really one of a young girl's changing emotions on meeting and losing a friend, and all of the plot questions that are deliberately left unanswered seem to be left unanswered because they are not actually relevant to the story being told.

More than this, I'm not sure we should think of the work as primarily a story at all; less a novel than a prose poem, it depicts the complexities of friendship, loss, and struggle with oneself in highly symbolic terms. The book itself is like its own ice palace: intricate and crystal-like, with many rooms, including dead ends, all beautiful but mysterious, and potentially trapping us in a set of puzzles until it dissolves away in the warming weather.

Favorite Passage: 

As soon as she stepped in she felt a trickling drop on the back of her neck. The opening she had come through was so low that she had to bend double.

It was a room of tears. The light in the glass walls was very weak, and the whole room seemed to trickle and weep with these falling drops in the half dark. Nothing had been built up there yet, the drops fell from the roof with a soft splash, down into each little pool of tears. It was all very sad.

They fell into her coat and her woollen cap. It didn't matter, but her heart was heavy as lead. It was weeping. What was it weeping for? (pp. 52-53)

Recommendation: Recommended.


Tarjei Vesaas, The Ice Palace, Rokkan, tr., Peter Owen (Chicago: 2016).

Friday, May 12, 2023

Dashed Off XVI

 In law each case must be considered not only in itself but also as a possible precedent.

If wealth is what can be bought or sold, we may create wealth by finding new ways to buy and sell; this is governed by possibility of demand.

Wealth is assessed by money, by labor, and by credit.

Estates in land are created by word, by writing, or by record; it is intrinsic to them to be describable.

sovereign right
allodial right
estate right (tenure)
use right

material for material: gold for corn
material for service: gold for work
material for intangible: gold for stock
service for service: instruction for instruction
service for intangible: work for banknote
intangible for intangible: banknote for patent
(intangible here is sign)

wealth as exchangeable right (Henry Dunning Macleod)

"As Credit is the abstract *Right to demand* residing in the person of the Creditor, so the Debit is the abstract *Duty to pay* residing in the person of the Debtor. The Credit and the Debt together constitute a CONTRACT, which is thus composed of two opposite quantities, which spring into existence together, which can only exist together, and which vanish together." Henry Dunning Macleod
"At the very instant that the property in goods passes to the buyer, there is CREATED in teh person fot he seller the RIGHT to DEMAND their price in money at the stipulated time: and at the very same instant there is CREATED in the person of the buyer the DUTY to PAY their price in money at the stipulated time."

usury // exploitation of labor // overuse of material resources

NB Macleod's economic argument against the Lucretian philosophy

the Holy Spirit as Nexus as mutual right qua person

The marriage as a corporate entity builds the household as a corporate entity.

instruments of tradition -- this sense of 'instrument' is the old legal one of 'evidence, written or personal, by which a claim can be proved'

instruments of credit
(1) orders to pay
(2) promises of payment
(3) deposits (entries in record)
(4) acknowledgement of debts

For everything that pertains to a person, there is a right to demand it and a duty to give it, held by the person himself. These balance. However, in some cases the right to demand can be alienated to another. The debtor then will 'buy back' this right to demand to pay the debt; or the creditor will give back teh right to demand; or the debotr will transfer a distinct right to demand in exchange for the original, which may be where the creditor himself has the duty to pay or when some third party has a duty to pay; or the creditor and debtor may exchange the right-duty relationship for a different right-duty relationship.

Thinking of redemption as ransom makes sense because
(1) ransom is an exchange in which there is no right to demand or duty to pay; those holding the prisoner have not right to demand, they merely demand; and there is no *duty* to pay them.
(2) what grounds the *mercy* to pay is the need of the one to be ransomed, not anything to do with the captor.
(3) in paying, the ransomer gains the right to receive the ransomed, and the captor a duty to released the ransomed.
(4) having been ransomed, the ransomed gains a duty of gratitude to the ransomer.

Contrition, confession, and satisfaction each cancel different aspects of sin when brought before the tribunal of mercy.

Peter the Chanter on indulgences: "We say that this pardon is conferred on body and soul when these three are present, namely, the authority of the Church, the communion of suffrages, and the work and devotion of the penitent."

Sins incur both culpa and poena.

Indulgences are voluntarily accepted extensions of pentiential satisfaction in which one contributes to the prayer and alms of the Church as a whole.

Rather than talk about partial and plenary indulgences, we should perhaps talk instead of contributing and complete indulgences.

William of Auvergne treats indulgences as part of the spiritual warfare of the Church, in whcih the prelates, as the generals, summon soldiers, recruit them, and pay them stipends for their additional work and contribution to noble assignments.

the treasury of merit as the formal cause of pardons

In Lev 25:10, the liberty proclaimed is that from the effects fo debt; the corresponding ideas in Mesopotamia are always about bondservatns serving out a debt being allowed to return home, and analogous situations. (Cp also Is 61 and Lk 4:17ff.)

We sing "Hallelujah" to express that God has freed us.

Neh 5:19 -- prayer to be remembered with favor for what one has done for another.

The merits of the saints are the merits of Christ by way of the saints.

As good works, pentiential acts are meritorious; as penalties, they are satisfactionary.

Christ merits for others because He has the grace of headship.

Lk 2:35 -- the Virgin spiritually shares the Passion of Christ

Release of debt is increase of wealth.

"He who is generous to the downtrodden makes a loan to the Lord; He will repay him his due." Pr 19:17
"The treasuries of teh wicked are of no avail, but sedaqah saves from death." Pr 10:2
"Capital is of not avail on the day of wrath, but sedaqah saves from death." Pr 11:4

"Almsgiving delivers from death and keeps you from entering darkness; and for all who pratice it, almsgiving is an excellent offering in the presence of the Most High." Tobit 4:11
"Lay up your treasure according to the commandments of the Most High, and it will profit you more than gold. Store up almsgiving in your treasury, and it will rescue from all affliction; more than a might shield and more than a heavy spear, it will fight on your behalf against your enemy." Sirach 29:11-13

Sir 7:29-36 and the seven physical almsdeeds

"Almsgiving lightens sin." 2 Clement 16:4

"O splendid trading! O divine business! You buy incorruption with money. You save the perishingthings of the world and receive in exchange for them an eternal abode in heaven." Clement of Alexandria

Ephrem, Hymn 4 & 5 on the Nativity: God is giver of all, canceling our debts. He is borrower of all, creating a debt by receiving sacrifices.

"We have given him our alms on loan. In turn, let us demand their repayment." Ephrem, Hymn on Faith 5

Mk 8:32 // Mk 10:26

"Give temporal wealth and claim eternal interest, give the earth and gain heaven." Augustine

Gn 17:6 // Church as social
Gn 17:7 // Church as sacramental
Gn 17:8 // Church as scriptural

kinds of executive action
(1) order (direction to action)
(2) declaration of intentions
(3) acknowledgments (findings and recognitions)
(4) registrations (enrollments)

Jesus' healing ministry seems to be concerned with removing impediments to full participation in the assembly -- all of the conditions are conditions that would have been considered unclean or otherwise prevent one from participating in the assembly by at least some Jewish sects of the day (e.g., the Rule of Congregation for Qumran bans all of the conditions Jesus heals). This is important for undertsanding how they symbolize salvation. It is also relevant to the cut-off-your-hand, pluck-out-your-eye passages; that is, it is better to exclude yourself from the assembly than to do so from the Kingdom of God.

Hand, foot, and eye are all associated with sexual transgression figures of speech in ancient Jewish and rabbinical texts.

Labor unions largely arise to block managerial retaliation.

Discussions of reliability of cognitive powers or methods often confuse 'unreliable' with 'false'; but they are very much not the same.

translation as a source of creativity -- the conversion of one text into different versions

Extensive government works by lists.

In every age, freedom grows from victory, and the kind of freedom is shaped by the kind of victory.

Love of neighbor enables us to diversify the ways we love God.

"If you have good armies, you will have good allies." Machiavelli

Like many rationalist accounts, Chomsky's universal grammar seems often to confuse formal and final considerations.

Tocqueville recognizes that lawyers are a non-democratic element of the American system, which is why they are a safeguard against lapses of democracy. But lawyersare for the very same reason poorly suited to blocking oligarchical wrongs.

Equal protection of law is equality in standing with regard to tribunals.

"Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity." Weil
"Truth is too dangerous to touch."

Genuine acts of solidarity are very difficult.

forms of Christian literature
(1) Scripture
(2) holy teaching
(3) oblatio litterae

use of pardon power as oversight of judiciary; as correction of anomalies in the execution of law; as safeguard for the freedoms of the people

- Clifford Geertz on the theatre state (order by model and copy)
-- note that ceremonial status can more easily cross boundaries than other influences
-- metaphysical theatre & shared vision
-- it's not necessary to think of this as a 'state'; rather, it is a form of power, weak in effect but powerful by slow pressure

The 'judgment of history' is an aesthetic judgment.

The sovereignty of a state derives from its civil society.

Philosophy of language often proceeds as if all language were derived from writing, and all meaning in language built up in the way one builds up meaning in writing.

Every sign suggests more than it means.

ordinary, operationalized, and stipulative language

Progressivism over-relies on persuasive definitions.

Children's playsets are systems of manually modifiable signs -- the toy car a sign of the car, etc.

the sacraments as cleansing piacular guilt and complicitous 'pitch'

Thursday, May 11, 2023

The 21 Coptic Martyrs

 An interesting development: In 2015, 21 people were executed by Daesh for refusing to renounce Christianity; 20 of them were Coptic Orthodox. Pope Francis announced today that they would also be included in the Roman Martyrology:

Twenty-one Christian martyrs, including 20 Copts killed by Daech in 2015 in Libya, will be included in the Roman martyrology, Pope Francis announced on May 11, 2023, in front of Patriarch Tawadros II, Pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church, who is present in Rome. This is historic: The Catholic Church and the Coptic Church have saints of the first centuries in common, but these will be the first saints recognized by both Churches since the split of the fifth century.

It is worth noting that the last sentence of that paragraph is not strictly true. It is true that the 20 of the 21 who were Coptic will be the first Coptic saints in the Roman Martyrology since the schism. But Copts are Oriental Orthdox, which means that they recognize the saints of the Ethiopian Orthodox, with whom they are in communion. And there is one post-schism Ethiopian Orthodox saint in the Roman Martyrology: St. Kaleb Elesbaan of Axum, who has been in the Roman Martyrology since the sixteenth century (when Pope Sixtus V, I think, had Baronius revise the Martyrology). Coptic Orthodox are also in communion with the Armenian Orthodox, and there is an Armenian Orthodox saint in both the Martyrology (put there under Pope John Paul II) and the General Calendar (put there by Pope Francis): St. Gregory of Narek.

There seems to be a lot of confusion about what this means, so a few points:

(1) Is this a canonization? Technically, yes, by definition -- they are being canonically entered on the rolls of martyrs. However, most people when they talk about 'canonization' mean a full, formal canonization for Rome's universal calendar, which is Rome's commendation of saints to the whole Church; this is very different from entry into the Roman Martyrology. The latter is a more informal process. It's also not a universal act; the Roman Martyrology is the roll of saints specifically for the Latin Church. There are many other calendars of saints in the Catholic Church -- namely, the Menologia and equivalent rolls for the Eastern Catholic churches. People have sometimes argued that formal pontifical canonization is an infallible act; nobody thinks entry into the martyrologies and menologies is an infallible act.

(2) There are already several saints in the Roman Martyrology who were not members of churches in communion with Rome; St. Isaac of Nineveh (Church of the East) is a famous example, as is St. Kaleb of Axum. St. Artemius is in the Martyrology despite the fact that he was an Arian (and in fact a persecutor of St. Athanasius and other orthodox saints); he was executed under the pagan Emperor Julian the Apostate. There are also quite a few ambiguous cases, in which multiple people might have been confused. For instance, St. Felix II was an antipope, and while our information sketchy, the information we have suggests he may have been an Arian antipope; but 'Felix' was a common name, so there's some evidence that his story may have been muddled up with that of a martyr who was no Arian -- but it's not absolutely certain that St. Felix II was actually an Arian, and it's not certain that he was not (later) martyred for opposition to Arianism, so we don't know. (The many cases like this are one reason why nobody thinks that entry into the Martyrology is infallible. One of the most important points that is made by the Martyrology -- explicitly, it's part of the daily prayers -- is that there are vast numbers of saints about which we know little to nothing, and the Martyrology, unlike the General Calendar, gives a wide benefit of the doubt because of that.) There are, of course, a number of post-schism Orthodox saints in the menologies of Catholic churches of Byzantine rite. There are even a few saints on the General Calendar itself who were members of churches not in communion with Rome. St. Gregory of Narek, of course, is one. St. Hippolytus of Rome was an antipope; according to legend, he may have reconciled before his death but the legends that say this are very late and probably just composed to explain why an antipope was on a calendar. 

(3) I mentioned above that 20 of the 21 were Coptic Orthodox. The 21st is Matthew Ayariga. We know almost nothing about him, although he's thought to have been from Ghana. He may have been Catholic. But he may not have been. He may not have even been Christian. We don't know. The story that's told, with what basis is difficult to determine, is that when the Islamist militants asked what his religion was, he simply replied, "Their God is my God". As some have noted, non-Christians converting at martyrdom is not unheard of. There is in the Roman Martyrology a saint listed as 'Adauctus'. That was not his name; his name is completely unknown; 'adauctus' in Latin means something added on top, and he was given the name by later Christians who wanted to have a name with which to refer to him. According to the legend, St. Felix (yet another one) was a priest who was condemned to death; but his demeanor had so impressed the unknown pagan that the pagan professed Christ and was martyred with him, and 'Saint Adauctus' is the unknown pagan.

In all these things, it is worthwhile to keep in mind that our predecessors in the faith tended to be quite generous in recognizing martyrs.

Ian Hacking (1936-2023)

 Ian Hacking recently died. He is best known for his work in philosophy of science. Representing and Intervening was one of the most important works in the field in the 80s and 90s. It's sometimes said that Hacking, through this work and others, was responsible for the 'experimental turn' in philosophy of science; this is a bit exaggerated, since there was quite a bit of work on experiment before him and the 'experimental turn' has been, shall we say, a very slow turn, but it is true that more than anyone else he made a vivid and influential case for putting experiment front and center in philosophy of science. It is, I think, a case that keeps needing to be made, because philosophers and scientists alike have a tendency to slip back into talking about scientific inquiry as if it were purely a matter of theory, with experiment having little more than a checking role. In reality, many theories are fundamentally attempts to describe the underlying causal features of experiments, which are then generalized out to the rest of the universe; forgetting this leads down many a false road.

I interacted with Hacking a number of times. Mostly we never actually talked philosophy, although I vaguely remember a brief discussion about probabilities (perhaps historical conceptions of probability). Both The Emergence of Probability and The Taming of Chance are very good discussions of the philosophy of probability; it's been years since I've read either, but I remember liking Emergence in particular quite a bit.

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Apostle of Andalusia

 Today is the feast of St. Juan de Avila, Doctor of the Church. From one of his letters:

Oh tepidity! If those who give way to it only rightly understood what it is, they would less easily fall victims to it, for they would dread to become the slaves of so cruel a tyrant. If we are free from this vice, nothing we can do or suffer for God, even death itself, seems too great a burden, whereas the victim of tepidity finds a straw too heavy for him to carry. vice ruins a man's spiritual life, and it not only stops all perseverance in the good he had commenced, but even causes him to repent of having begun it, thus turning into bitterness what should be sweeter than honey to his soul.

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.

[St. John of Avila, from Letters of Blessed John of Avila, pp. 90-91.]

Monday, May 08, 2023

A Poem Draft and a Poem Re-Draft

The Light that Knows that It Will Die

Sometimes dawn is aching, golden tears
that shine across a crumpled sky,
a condensation of countless hopes and fears,
a light that knows that it will die.

We rise at morning;
we go our ways
with busy hands
through busy days,
with toil and worry
both remembered and forgot
and busy minds
in distracted thought;
but still a whisper,
like echo and ache,
and not enough time
to do or to make.

Sometimes a dawn is an aching thing,
the human heart shining through human eye,
small and frail; yet it spreads its wings,
this light that knows that it will die.

The Poem Inside 

I'm sorry that I cannot tell you
the poem I have inside.
I swear that I have tried before:
I wrote it. The writing lied.
Sometimes with undocile heart
I clouded it with pride.
Sometimes I blew the spark to glow
but still the fire died.
Sometimes I reach out steady hand
but words all run and hide.
I'm sorry that I cannot give you
the poem I have inside.

Sunday, May 07, 2023

Fortnightly Book, May 7

 For scheduling reasons, I need to have a fairly short work for the next fortnightly book, particularly one that can be read in about a week without much strain, so I've chosen The Ice Palace by Tarjei Vesaas. Vesaas (1897-1970) is usually considered the mostly likely candidate for the third greatest Norwegian novelist (after Knut Hamsun and Sigrid Undset, who are the obvious rivals for the laurel of greatest). He is distinctive in part because he wrote not in Bokmal, the standard literary form of Norwegian, but Nynorsk, the version of Norwegian developed in the nineteenth century when the Romantics tried to imagine what a form of Norwegian without Danish intrusions would be like. His works are also deliberately short and sparse and heavily symbolic, the intent being to convey as much as possible with as little as possible.

The Ice Palace, a tragic story of a friendship between two girls, is his most famous work, published in 1963. I confess that the summaries make the story sound rather weird and unappealing, but of course, the book may well just be hard to summarize well. In any case, I will see.

Hope Founded on Good Conscience

 When a good man is forsaken by the world, and is subjected to the miseries of poverty and the loss of friends, he still finds something within which brings him consolation. It is not merely a good conscience, but it is Hope founded on a good conscience. He has an internal assurance, that however melancholy his present position may be, there yet is something good in store for him. This hope enables him to bear up, and carries him in triumph through the storms of the world.

Robert Morehead, A Series of Discourses on the Principles of Religious Belief as Connected with Human Happiness and Improvement, Volume I (1809), Sermon X, "Proofs of Immortality from Reason" (p. 158). 

I've briefly discussed Robert Morehead before; he was a Scottish Episcopalian minister and one of the most creative thinkers of early nineteenth-century Britain. He was a poet and translator, a major figure in the development of a new style of pulpit oratory, and a philosopher; but very little work seems to have been done on him.