Wednesday, May 09, 2012

The end of a run

Note to both of you, you may have noticed I've finally moved on from blogger. I will maintain the following as my personal site from this point forward, including blog posts:

Friday, March 02, 2012

"One Art," by Elizabeth Bishop

The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
 of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant to travel.
None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.

---Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan't have lied. It's evident
the art of losing's not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

"The Unknown Citizen," W.H. Auden

He was found by the Bureau of Statistics to be
One against whom there was no official complaint,
And all the reports on his conduct agree
That, in the modern sense of an old-fashioned word, he was a saint,
For in everything he did he served the Greater Community.
Except for the War till the day he retired
He worked in a factory and never got fired,
But satisfied his employers, Fudge Motors Inc.
Yet he wasn't a scab or odd in his views,
For his Union reports that he paid his dues,
(Our report on his Union shows it was sound)
And our Social Psychology workers found
That he was popular with his mates and liked a drink.
The Press are convinced that he bought a paper every day
And that his reactions to advertisements were normal in every way.
Policies taken out in his name prove that he was fully insured,
And his Health-card shows he was once in hospital but left it cured.
Both Producers Research and High-Grade Living declare
He was fully sensible to the advantages of the Instalment Plan
And had everything necessary to the Modern Man,
A phonograph, a radio, a car and a frigidaire.
Our researchers into Public Opinion are content
That he held the proper opinions for the time of year;
When there was peace, he was for peace: when there was war, he went.
He was married and added five children to the population,
Which our Eugenist says was the right number for a parent of his generation.
And our teachers report that he never interfered with their education.
Was he free? Was he happy? The question is absurd:
Had anything been wrong, we should certainly have heard.

Friday, February 24, 2012

"News from the real world!"

Felicia: And I remain unmoved by your prophetic dooming and damning. We're not decadent, as you imply. We're just into our feelings.
Socrates: Feeling-fondling? Is not auto-eroticism a form of decadence?
Felicia: What is your music into, Socrates?
Socrates: If you mean what is it about, it is about its source, the Muses. It is a divine glory.
Felicia: Well, our music comes from us, not from the Muses.
Socrates: I rest my case.
Felicia: What do you mean?
Socrates: That fact itself is evidence of your decadence. For you know neither the heights nor the depths of the music, if you think it comes only from you. I seem to see a picture of the two castaways on a desert island suddenly receiving a message in a bottle. They feel a sudden hope: news from the real world! Then they read it and their faces fall: they realize it came only from them. No wonder you do not hear the Muses; your ears are turned inward. And I will hazard a guess that Plato was right in seeing decadence in music as prophetic of all further decadence, for once the most primitive and appealing voice of the gods is subjectivized, other, harder things will follow: you will begin to think that you invented society, and civilization, and religion; you will subjectivize right and wrong, and finally even reality itself. Eventually you will believe that the world itself is only a projection of your consciousness.

Peter Kreeft, Best Things in Life, 106.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Quotable: David Bentley Hart

From David Bentley Hart's book on the new atheism, which will remain nameless because the publisher chose a bad name for it:
There is, after all, nothing inherently reasonable in the conviction that all of reality is simply an accidental confluence of physical causes, without any transcendent source or end. Materialism is not a fact of experience or a deduction of logic; it is a metaphysical prejudice, nothing more, and one that is arguably more irrational than almost any other. In general, the unalterably convinced materialist is a kind of childishly complacent fundamentalist, so fervently, unreflectively, and rapturously committed to the materialist vision of reality that if he or she should encounter any problem—logical or experiential—that might call its premises into question, or even merely encounter a limit beyond which those premises lose their explanatory power, he or she is simply unable to recognize it.
David Bentley Hart, pp. 102.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Quotable: Robert Farrar Capon

"The world...needs all the lovers--amateurs--it can get. It is a gorgeous old place, full of clownish graces and beautiful drolleries, and it has enough textures, tastes, and smells to keep us intrigued for more time than we have. Unfortunately, however, our response to its loveliness is not always delight; it is, far more often than it should be, boredom. And that is not only odd, it is tragic; for boredom is not neutral--it is the fertilizing principle of unloveliness. In such a situation, the amateur--the lover, the man who thinks heedlessness is a sin and boredom a heresy--is just the man you need. ...The real world is indeed the mother of loveliness, the womb and matrix in which it is conceived and nurtured; but the loving the father of it. The graces of the world are the looks of a woman in love; without the woman they could not be there at all; but without her lover, they would not quicken into loviness. There then, is the role of the amateur: to look the world back to grace. ...Man's real work is to look at the things of the world and to love them for what they are. That is, after all, what God does, and man was not made in God's image for nothing. The fruits of his attention can be seen in all the arts, crafts, and sciences."
Robert Farrar Capon, The Supper of the Lamb

Saturday, February 11, 2012

On Manliness

You’ve met a man, so you say? How dare you use that wraith of a word? Yes, the ghost of manliness still haunts us to remind us that we are its killers. Do you know what that word once meant with all its embodied virility and strength? Perhaps you meant that you met a man like Gilgamesh the great king of Uruk. Your man, has he built the walls of Uruk-Haven, opened the mountain passes, fought the bull of heaven, and carved in a stone stela all his toils? What ambition does your man have? Or perhaps, he is more like David, with his cunning and righteous honor? Does your man brave death to face those who defy the name of God? Has your man withheld his hand from smiting his most loathsome enemy merely for the sake of God’s name? Yet, perhaps, this man of yours is different entirely. Perhaps his manliness is one of wisdom and piety. Has he governed his people well and made peace like that reluctant ruler, Numa Pompilius. Has your man seen the folly of youthful strife? Has he, by his strength of character, sealed the doors of Janus’s temple, washing clean hands filthy with blood? Or rather, is he like Gaius Mucius, who realized that while war may be inevitable it is better to die and freedom to be preserved? Tell me please, what is this man like, if you choose to call him that. Or if I may be so bold to ask, is he like that man, incredibly enfleshed who gave humanity its truest vision of manhood? Would he, like Jesus, courageously face death to serve and to call men and women to a higher vision of humanity, one which sees as its highest calling the service of the glory of God? Does his passion against sin burn to the point where he could brazenly flout the insidious religious traditions which enslave mankind? Would he bear with patience the consequences of others sin? Does he love like the lamb of God? Please, tell me if your man dares even to admire these men. If so, perhaps by the grace of God, you can say you’ve met a man.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

A Portion of "The Great Knock" Chapter

"The Great Knock", Chapter IX, Surprised by Joy, C.S. Lewis

On a September day, having crossed to Liverpool and reached London, I made my way to Waterloo and ran down to Great Bookham. I have been told that Surrey was "suburban," and the landscape that actually flitted past the windows astonished me. I saw steep little hills, watered valleys, and wooded commons which ranked by my Wyvernian and Irish standards as forest; bracken everywhere; a world of red and russet and yellowish greens. Even the sprinkling of suburban villas (much rarer then than now) delighted me. These timbered and red-tiled houses, embosomed in trees, were wholly unlike the stuccoed monstrosities which formed the suburbs of Belfast. Where I had expected gravel drives and iron gates and interminable laurels and monkey puzzlers, I saw crooked paths running up or down hill from wicket gates, between fruit tress and birches. By a severer taste than mine these houses would all be mocked perhaps; yet I cannot help thinking that those who designed them and their gardens achieved their object, which was to suggest Happiness. They filled me with a desire for that domesticity which, in its full development, I had never known; they set one thinking of tea trays.

At Bookham I was met by my new teacher --"Kirk" or "Knock" or the Great Knock as my father, my brought, and I all called him. We had heard about him all our lives and I therefore had a very clear impression what I was in for. I came prepared to endure a perpetual lukewarm shower bath of sentimentality. That was the price I was ready to pay for the infinite blessedness of escaping school; but a heavy price. One story of my father's, in particular, gave me the most embarrassing forebodings. He had loved to tell how once at Lurgan, when he was in some kind of trouble or difficulty, the Old Knock, or the dear Old Knock, had drawn him aside and there "quietly and naturally" slid his arm round him and rubbed his dear old whiskers against my father's youthful cheek and whispered a few words of comfort. . . . And here was Bookham at last, and there was the arch-sentimentalist himself waiting to meet me.

He was over six feet tall, very shabbily dressed (like a gardener, I thought), lean as a rake, and immensely muscular. His wrinkled face seemed to consist entirely of muscles, so far as it was visible; for he wore a mustache and side whiskers with clean-shaven chin like Emperor Franz Joseph. The whiskers, you will understand, concerned me very much at the moment. My cheek already tingled in anticipation. Would he begin at once? There would be tears for certain; perhaps worse things. It is one of my lifelong weaknesses that I never could endure the embrace or kiss of my own sex. (An unmanly weakness, by the way; Aeneas, Beowulf, Roland, Launcelot, Johnson, and Nelson knew nothing of it.) 

Apparently, however, the old man was holding his fire. We shook hands, and though his grip was like iron pincers it was not lingering. A few minutes later we were walking away from the station. 

"You are now," said Kirk, "proceeding along the principal artery between Great and Little Bookham." 

I stole a glance at him. Was this geographical exordium a heavy joke? Or was he trying to conceal his emotions? His face, however, showed only an inflexible gravity. I began to "make conversation" in the deplorable manner which I had acquired at those evening parties and indeed found increasingly necessary to use with my father. I said I was surprised at the "scenery" of Surrey; it was much "wilder" than I had expected.

"Stop!" shouted Kirk with a suddenness that made me jump. "What do you mean by wildness and what grounds had you for not expecting it?" 

I replied that I don't know what, still "making conversation." As answer after answer was torn to shreds it at last dawned upon me that he really wanted to know. He was not making conversation, nor joking, nor snubbing me; he wanted to know. I was stung into attempting a real answer. A few passes sufficed to show that I had no clear and distinct idea corresponding to the word "wildness," and that, in so far as I had any idea at all, "wildness" was a singularly inept word. "Do you not see, then," concluded the Great Knock, "that your remark was meaningless?" I prepared to sulk a little assuming that the subject would now be dropped. Never was I more mistaken in my life. Having analyzed my terms, Kirk was proceeding to deal with my proposition as a whole. On what had I based (be he pronounced it baized) my expectations about the Flora and Geology of Surrey? Was it maps, or photographs, or books? I could produce none. It had, heaven help me, never occurred to me what I called my thoughts needed to be "baized" on anything. Kirk once more drew a conclusion--without the slightest sign of emotion, but equally without the slightest concession to what I thought good manners: "Do you not see, then, that you had no right to have any opinion whatever on the subject?" 

By this time our acquaintance had lasted about three and a half minutes; but the tone set by this first conversation was preserved without a single break during all the years I spent at Bookham. Anything more grotesquely unlike the "Dear Old Knock" of my father's reminiscences could not be conceived. Knowing my father's invariable intention of veracity and also knowing what strange transformations every truth underwent when once it entered his mind, I am sure he did not mean to deceive us. But if Kirk at any time of his life took a boy aside and there "quietly and naturally" rubbed the boy's face with his whiskers, I shall be easily believe that he sometimes varied the treatment by quietly and naturally standing on his venerable and egg-bald head.

Monday, February 06, 2012

On Life

Yes, they have accused us of destroying life, rather than living. We, the mystics, they say, have rejected utterly the power of the plus in exchange for the zero. Yet, it is not we who destroy. No, we who have seen the faintest glimpses of the overworld, we who have seen out of the cave, we love life more than all others. We have not foisted the burden of original sin on anyone. The reasonable men have all uttered one final “I do not understand” as death has pressed itself on them. The reasonable men have thought to vanquish all enemies. Like great Theseus, they have chosen the highways of our land to rid us of the ferocious beasts. Yet, as they swing their clubs, they kill one only to reveal another. Then finally, like Theseus, they withdraw. Or rather, their bodies withdraw like the bodies of all reasonable men have withdrawn before them. The reasonable men pass with all their plusses utterly negated while they deny even the possibility of it. We do not rejoice at their realization. No, we lament. We do not equivocate over the bitterness of death. We utterly reject it. We will refuse to accept the setting darkness, as ones who have seen that the sun rises again in the east. So we look east with expectant eyes. Just as original sin presses itself on all of us, so also the dawning from the east presses itself on us. How can we pretend that mankind has not seen it? How can we deny the reality of it? If just one of our kind stepped from this cave and lives to tell of it, shall we not heed? No, we, the mystics as they say, hold life as our highest end. We will live and do live. We live because one of our kind lived before us.

Friday, January 27, 2012

I Hate "Boring"

What students say:

“This is boring”

What I hear:

“I am unable to connect this material with any part of my regular patterns of thought in any way which I perceive to be interesting. In other words, it just might be the case that this material is so far above my understanding that I don’t even have a conceptual grasp about what it might be saying. Or I might be saying, that I am unable to connect this material with any real basis from which I make decisions, either due to inexperience or ineptitude in my decision making faculties.”

I don't mean to be cheeky, but I wish students understood that using the word "boring" says more about themselves than about the subject matter. Boring is not a descriptive term without the context of a reader.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

On Being an Academic and a Churchman

I think one of the reasons it can be frustrating to be both an academic and a church man is that for an academic, a question can be raised and he will spend 35 years pursuing an answer. For a churchman, if a question is raised, it seems like it must be answered and put to rest in 35 minutes. The heuristic passion which is brought about by open questions and which drives academic inquiry is looked upon with suspicion by churchmen. For the churchman, questions can be corrosive to faith, or worse, idols themselves. For the academic (understood charitably), they are the means to worship.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

PK: Intellectual Passion

"The function which I attribute . . . to scientific passion is that of distinguishing between demonstrable facts which are of scientific interest, and those which are not. Only a tiny fraction of all knowable facts are of interest to scientists, and scientific passion serves also as a guide in the assessment of what is relatively slight. I want to show that this appreciation depends ultimately on a sense of intellectual beauty; that it is an emotional response which can never be dispassionately defined, any more than we dispassionately define the beauty of a work of art or the excellence of a noble action."
Polanyi, Personal Knowledge, 135.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Polanyi and Words and Meaning

“If, then, it is not words that have meaning, but the speaker or listener who means something by them, let me declare accordingly my true position as the author of what I have written so far, as well as of what is still to follow. I must admit now that I did not start the present reconsideration of my beliefs with a clean slate of unbelief.  Far from it.  I started as a person intellectually fashioned by a particular idiom, acquired through my affiliation to a civilization that prevailed in the places where I had grown up, at this particular period of history. This has been the matrix of all my intellectual efforts. Within it I was to find my problem and seek the terms for its solution. All my amendments to these original terms will remain embedded in the system of my previous beliefs. Worse still, I cannot precisely say what these beliefs are. I can say nothing precisely. The words I have spoken and am yet to speak mean nothing: it is only I who mean something by them. And, as a rule, I do not focally know what I mean, and though I could explore my meaning up to a point, I believe that my words (descriptive words) must mean more than I shall ever know, if they are to mean anything at all” 
Polanyi, Persaonal Knowledge, 252.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Kant on Empiricism and Rationalism

 "Thoughts without content are empty, intuitions witthout concepts are blind."

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Plutarch, on Patrons and Clients

By this more imposing title he distinguished the senate from the populace; and in other ways separated the nobles and the commons,--calling them patrons, and these their clients,--by which means he created wonderful love and amity betwixt them, productive of great justice in their dealings. For they were always their clients' counsellors in law cases, their advocates in courts of justice; in fine, their advisers and supporters in all affairs whatever. These again faithfully served their patrons, not only paying them all respect and deference, but also, in case of poverty, helping them to portion their daughters and pay off their debts; and for a patron to witness against his client, or a client against his patron, was what no law nor magistrate could enforce.
Plutarch, "Romulus"

This quote could be very interesting in light of the situation in 1 Corinthians.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Piper on Lewis

"Lewis’s pursuit of Joy by means of rational defenses of objective truth has had liberating effect on me. He freed me from false dichotomies. He demonstrated for me and convinced me that rigorous, precise, penetrating logic is not inimical to deep, soul-stirring feeling and vivid, lively imagination. He was a “romantic rationalist.” He combined what almost everybody today assumes are mutually exclusive: rationalism and poetry, cool logic and warm feeling, disciplined prose and free imagination. In shattering these old stereotypes for me, he freed me to think hard and to write poetry, to argue for the resurrection and compose hymns to Christ, to smash an argument and hug a friend, to demand a definition and use a metaphor. It is a wonderful thing when a great man shows a struggler how to be himself."
- John Piper

Monday, December 12, 2011

Quotable: Oresteia

So against Paris's guilty boast
Zeus, witness between guest and host,
Sends Atreus' sons for stern redress
Of his and Helen's wantonness.
Now Greece and Troy both pay their equal debt
Of aching limbs and wounds and sweat,
While knees sink low in gory dust,
And spears are shivered at first thrust.
Aeschylus, Agamemnon, 60-67

You now speak more in wisdom,
Naming the thrice-gorged Fury
That hates and haunts our race.
Hers is the thirst of slaughter,
Still slaked with feud and vengeance,
Till, with each wrong requited,
A new thirst takes its place.
Aeschylus, Agamemnon, 1475-81

Saturday, December 10, 2011

A Little Morning Gloom: Morning at the Window, by T.S. Eliot

Morning at the Window

by T S Eliot 

They are rattling breakfast plates in basement kitchens, 
 And along the trampled edges of the street 
I am aware of the damp souls of housemaids 
Sprouting despondently at area gates. 
The brown waves of fog toss up to me 
Twisted faces from the bottom of the street, 
And tear from a passer-by with muddy skirts 
An aimless smile that hovers in the air 
And vanishes along the level of the roofs. 

It's 'depressing' in the sense that it has no explicit positive message to put forth. Yet, the poem, as all laments are, is a cry for something lost. This world--a very modern world--he describes is one where time has become oppressive, dishes are done in stacks. Streets are trampled rather than trodden; they are used not traveled. Life for housemaids is despair and meaninglessness; they sprout despondently. People are noticed rather than known; he is aware of these maids and nameless passer-byers. And cheer, meaning, and prayers, where they exist, never get beyond the level of the roofs; we have shut out God. May God grant us the grace to embody faith, hope, and love in this world.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Generalists and Interdisciplinary Work

The following from Zachary Ernst is highly illuminating in terms of recognizing the assumptions of modern academia:

While I was still an assistant professor, I had published in several different areas – I had papers in ethics, action theory, game theory, logic, and philosophy of science. The chair of my department was unhappy about this, and he told me so. He said, quite explicitly, that it would be very difficult for me to get tenure with such research breadth. This may sound unbelievable to someone outside of academia, but his reasoning was quite sound. Tenure decisions were made largely based on whether the faculty member had developed a reputation in the field. And it is easier to do that if you repeatedly publish in the same narrow subset of the academic literature. Spreading myself around too much, I was told, might result in my having failed to achieve a reputation. At the time I had this conversation, I had two distinct feelings. On the one hand, I felt that this was totally absurd – how can the ability to publish in several distinct areas be considered a liability? But on the other hand, I had to admit that he was right, and that this was good advice.

Notice how the assumption of modern academia is to collect data, not to produce people. A generalist might be the best sort of person for producing people, but certainly wouldn't be the best sort for advancing the mystical progress of the data machine we call the modern project. This tempts me to say, tenure be damned, I want to be a Christian educator.

ht: Discover Magazine Blog; Caleb Gates