Sunday, February 28, 2010
I encourage the uninitiated to read Swift’s poems for the sheer fun of it and not get distracted by obsessive allusion tracking. That can come later if the experience of reading the poems proves rewarding, and the reader has the stomach for formal verse devoted to often unpleasant matters. I can’t think of another poet, not even his great friend Pope, who makes invective and smut so amusing.
... every now and then, it seems, a gap is exposed. Events occur; art offers no guidance. The powers of imagination and attunement falter. Artists suffer a collective loss of awareness. “The culture” emits signals, but they are picked up only fitfully or are missed altogether.Art is prophetic only in a general sense. Nietzsche quite correctly foresaw that "there will be wars such as have never happened on earth," but he did not specifically foretell the 20th century's two world wars. Indeed, when the first of those wars broke out, most writers seem to have agreed with the Kaiser that it would all be over by Christmas.
The basement and the garret are ... places of the unformed image. They are where we store the relics of our past, the now-unused items to which we remain attached, warehouses of memory and neglect.
...that is not how most people find faith in the first place. Goldstein acknowledges as much in her last counter-proof, “The Argument from the Abundance of Arguments”: “Religions …do not justify themselves with a single logical argument, but minister to all of these spiritual needs and provide a space in our lives where the largest questions with which we grapple all come together...” The challenge Goldstein sets for herself in her latest novel is whether a writer capable of so fully inhabiting the mind of the atheist is also capable of mapping that faithful “space” in a sympathetic and convincing way.
Saturday, February 27, 2010
If religion is for this life only, then it must compete on an even plane with other worldly ideologies.
And if so, why bother. This is a very thoughtful piece, but I think it needs to be emphasized that those who take faith seriously understand that its essence - that which makes it what it is - is prayer, the lifting up of the mind and heart to God. That is why a proper liturgy reverently observed is important, and why a frivolous liturgy casually executed is so counterproductive.
Erik-Jan Bos, a philosophy scholar at Utrecht University in the Netherlands who is helping to edit a new edition of Descartes’s correspondence, said that during a late-night session browsing the Internet he noticed a reference to Descartes in a description of the manuscript collection at Haverford College in Pennsylvania.
If I weren’t in Cyprus now, reading The Sunday Times online in a dust-storm between the mosaics of Paphos and the Sahara, I think I could find a range of ancient accounts of soldiers fighting with bees, from the venomous poison-flower-eating killer bees of the Black Sea deployed against the Romans by Mithradates to the heated earthenware pots of bees hurled into rivals tents by military geniuses whose names I cannot quite now remember but could find, I think, back home.
Friday, February 26, 2010
Over the past few days I have been collaborating with my friend Xiyu Huang on some translations from the Chinese. Actually, it would be more proper to say I have been serving as editor for Xiyu's translations. I am distinctly the junior partner in this enterprise.
Thursday, February 25, 2010
Radio plays work so well because the audience has to do so much of the imagining. The plays get inside you in ways only matched by ... books.
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
I think this review is a load of crap, and especially disagree that the book offers "no new revelations about the life or the music." What it offers is a very good explication of the life in terms of the music. That's what it purports to do and, in my view, succeeds in doing.
... If public reason has “deprived” the natural world of “its normative dimension” by conceiving of it as free-standing and tethered to nothing higher than or prior to itself, how, Smith asks, “could one squeeze moral values or judgments about justice . . . out of brute empirical facts?” No way that is not a sleight of hand. This is the cul de sac Enlightenment philosophy traps itself in when it renounces metaphysical foundations in favor of the “pure” investigation of “observable facts.” It must somehow bootstrap or engineer itself back up to meaning and the possibility of justified judgment, but it has deliberately jettisoned the resources that would enable it do so.
This brings to mind the line from Schiller's Don Carlos, about the lovers of Humanität being the persecutors of Menschlichkeit - the difference being between an abstraction (the former) and individual human beings (the latter).
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
I think every legend has got to be interpreted according to our own age. I find that ancient themes often serve as a helpful springboard into my works. They are merely a point of departure; they help get things underway.
The resistance today by publishers to the onrushing digital future does not arise from fear of disruptive literacy, but from the understandable fear of their own obsolescence and the complexity of the digital transformation that awaits them, one in which much of their traditional infrastructure and perhaps they too will be redundant.
Monday, February 22, 2010
“Poetry, in fact, is two quite distinct things,” H. L. Mencken wrote in a 1920 magazine column. “It may be either or both. One is a series of words that are intrinsically musical, in clang-tint and rhythm, as the single word cellar-door is musical. The other is a series of ideas, false in themselves, that offer a means of emotional and imaginative escape from the harsh realities of everyday.”
"... a series of ideas, false in themselves ..." Really, Henry? Spoken like a man who understands nothing of poetry.
More here, via Dave: 'Cellar door'--and more.
Here's a sample: Mysticism, Ethical and Chemical.
Instead of one of those outworn moralistic codes, the ethical systems of the vulgarizers of religion are simplicity itself — all you have to do is buy a paperback book at the drugstore one week and come back and buy a bottle of LSD the next, and whooey—! You can be Buddha. The word for this is charlatanism.
Here are the sorts of changes he has in mind: Fiction and autobiography would mingle freely; essays and criticism would become lyrical, verse and novels essayistic. The writer would openly plagiarize peers and past masters. And all of it would be rendered in jagged, loosely connected fragments. Why? Because this resembles life, which "flies at us in bright splinters": "The novel is dead. Long live the antinovel, built from scraps."
Color me dubious.
Testing the limits of the First Amendment, federal prosecutors have charged a Louisville man with threatening to kill the president based on a poem he wrote and recently re-posted on a neo-Nazi Web site.
Sunday, February 21, 2010
''If I knew that I could die at any time I wanted then suddenly every day would be as precious as a million pounds. If I knew that I could die, I would live. My life, my death, my choice.''
They were dignified, considered words. Even so, Pratchett expected all hell to break loose. To his surprise, it didn't. ''Some archbishops have said nasty things but I look on that as a plus,'' he says, lucidly and softly.
Well, the Archbishop of Canterbury did come out against revising the legal system in favor of assisted suicide, but he didn't strike me as having been nasty about it. Be that as it may, it seems that Pratchett ought to be able to exit in whatever way he wants. He may have religious convictions -- I don't know -- but whatever they may be, they evidently do not constrain him from committing suicide.
The problem, of course, has to do with those who provide assistance to those who do not in fact want it just yet.
... The man who made The Catch.
... Susan Balée looks at Stories of love, which ennobles all.
... Christine Ma likes Jodi Picoult's latest: Page-turner takes on Asperger's syndrome.
... Paul Davis likes the action: Thriller takes tactical shots at fame culture, liberal press.
... What your brain knows that you don't.
May it not be that, just as we have to have faith in Him, God has to have faith in us and, considering the history of the human race so far, may it not be that "faith" is even more difficult for Him than it is for us?- W.H. Auden, born on this date in 1907
Saturday, February 20, 2010
Friday, February 19, 2010
Thursday, February 18, 2010
I love everything Daniel writes. So here's some more: Lucifer watch: Satanists attempt to infiltrate Russian police.
And rhis: Messiah watch: Savior of all mankind already on TV so keep your eyes peeled.
Cox recognises the risks associated with some of the features of the age of the spirit – its fundamentalism, say, or the prosperity gospel. But he argues they can't last. They are essentially reactions against modern biblical scholarship, which means "a religion based on subscribing to mandatory beliefs is no longer viable". Hence the emphasis on the spirit. Neither does he worry that Christianity today so often feels like a Jesus-centred personality cult. Rather, Pentecostalism is a positive force, part of "an inexorable movement of the human spirit whose hour has come".
I don't think Cox understands this.
... this site (Chekhov's Mistress/BudParr.com, i.e. my personal site) is going through an upheaval, so this is an issue I'm thinking about as I do that. Do I go along with the flow, or shoot for obscurity. Do I pick a topic and stay with it, do I write about what comes to mind?
Blogs are almost by definition works in progress. They are sort of where the essay was right after Montaigne invented the form. No one quite knows what direction they will take. But they are headed somewhere. And there is more life in them than there is, say, in newspapers.
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
WHEN a man feels proud of himself, he stands erect, draws himself to his full height, throws back his head and shoulders and says with every part of his body, I am bigger and more important than you. But when he is humble he feels his littleness, and lowers his head and shrinks into himself. He abases himself. And the greater the presence in which he stands the more deeply he abases himself; the smaller he becomes in his own eyes.
But when does our littleness so come home to us as when we stand in God's presence? He is the great God, who is today and yesterday, whose years are hundreds and thousands, who fills the place where we are, the city, the wide world, the measureless space of the starry sky, in whose eyes the universe is less than a particle of dust, all-holy, all-pure, all-righteous, infinitely high. He is so great, I so small, so small that beside him I seem hardly to exist, so wanting am I in worth and substance. One has no need to be told that God's presence is not the place in which to stand on one's dignity. To appear less presumptuous, to be as little and low as we feel, we sink to our knees and thus sacrifice half our height; and to satisfy our hearts still further we bow down our heads, and our diminished stature speaks to God and says, Thou art the great God; I am nothing.
Therefore let not the bending of our knees be a hurried gesture, an empty form. Put meaning into it. To kneel, in the soul's intention, is to bow down before God in deepest reverence.
On entering a church, or in passing before the altar, kneel down all the way without haste or hurry, putting your heart into what you do, and let your whole attitude say, Thou art the great God. It is an act of humility, an act of truth, and every time you kneel it will do your soul good.- Romano Guardini, born on this date in 1885I am a great admirer of Guardini. His book The Living God drew me back to the Church.
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
I'm not sure why, but all of this leaves me somehow unpersuaded. I guess I'll have to read Gordon's book.
In the second half of the book, Baker critiques contemporary arguments for secularism, beginning with a very useful look at the influential postmodern thinker Stanley Fish. Although perhaps an unlikely ally for Christians, Fish has perceptively argued, in Baker's words, that "Western liberalism has been performing an elaborate shell game for a few centuries now" by positing secularism as a neutral point of view. "There is no neutral view from nowhere" ...
In the famous “explanatory filter” of William A. Dembski, one finds “design” by eliminating “law” and “chance” as explanations. This, in effect, makes it a zero-sum game between God and nature. What nature does and science can explain is crossed off the list, and what remains is the evidence for God. ... Cui bono? Only those people whose religious doctrines entail either Young Earth creationism or a rejection of common descent. Such people already and necessarily were in a state of war with modern science and have no choice but to fight that war to the bitter end.
Monday, February 15, 2010
I wonder if it would be permissible to infer from this that the science is somewhat less settled than some have claimed.
More here and here.
Here is Jones's response at Nature: 'Climategate' scientist speaks out.
Post bumped because I want as many voices heard on this as possible.
Sunday, February 14, 2010
I can't find the reference, but G. K. Chesterton wrote somewhere that all those scoffers, who call God evil for creating an evil world, are right in a sense, and that God acknowledged it (in a way) by explicitly accepting the punishment for creating all that evil.
I didn't know Chesterton made the point, but it's one I have made to myself.
It is clear that religion is an intrinsic part of human nature -- in ways both moving and terrifying.
The same can be said of science, too, and certainly of politics. It's the human nature that is the essential factor.
It is ... this paradigm of invalidation and erasure, with its messianic tones, that I find is so ineffective and so unhelpful to a better understanding of literature and ourselves. It makes true discourse impossible, and limits the intelligence of both sides by blinding prejudice. Humility in any case is the missing virtue of each.
Saturday, February 13, 2010
The only societies in which true science has ever thrived, [Ferris] argues, are those established on the principles of classical liberalism. Where government is limited, science can flourish because it is only under such conditions that free inquiry, on which science depends, is protected. Liberal democracies are also, in an important regard, scientific themselves. There is a provisional aspect to their operations, which are determined not by ideology, but by the messy, often frustrating, trial-and-error ordeal of representative elections.
... there is the sheer originality of what Orwell says, which is why whenever you dig into him you will hit a nugget of golden wisdom. “India is potentially a nation, as Europe, with its smaller population and great racial homogeneity, is not,” he wrote, thereby obviating acres of print since, about whether there will ever be a United States of Europe.
Among the things literature's good for, Batuman illustrates, is to provide a small number of very smart people with academic ground that must be protected and peed all over, and thus with boundless opportunities to demonstrate the nature of human absurdity.
Heretics were often most bitterly persecuted for their least deviation from accepted belief. It was precisely their obstinacy about trifles that irritated the righteous to madness. Why can they not yield on so trifling a matter?