Thursday, December 10, 2009

What is Literature?

For centuries, literature has been an essential element of what has been considered to be a complete education of the human person. Although education is often considered to be a matter of the intellect, intelligent observers of human nature know that there is a lot more to the human person than the thinking mind. One of these non-intellectual “parts” is the Enthusiastic Part, that in the human person which acts, desires to act, et cetera. Literature can be defined as written works insofar as they are allied with the Enthusiastic part of the human person, as opposed to the intellectual part. By seeing what this definition includes, it will be shown that this definition is a workable definition of the word “literature.”
First, it is necessary to describe a few ways in which something can be allied to the Enthusiastic Part. One of the most obvious ways is through the emotions. Something that awakens or quiets emotions, whether the awakener/quieter be literature, music, an event, or anything else, has an effect on the Enthusiastic Part because the emotions effect what one desires (i.e., what one has enthusiasm for). For example, a symphony awakening emotions of bravery (even if it has no articulate meaning) can inspire a person to do heroic deeds. Something that inspires or satisfies the imagination also has an effect on the Enthusiastic Part because it is natural for humans to be affected profoundly on an emotional/non-intellectual level by images. For example, the act of carving a sculpture could give the sculptor a greater love either of the thing he is carving or of Beauty itself because by his action, the Beauty or the thing has been made into an image through his imagination.
Finally, many forms of mysticism employ the use of the Enthusiastic Part. Loving Union with God, the highest mysticism, is the final end of this human faculty, for this faculty includes the will. Because of the interconnectedness of the will, the desires, the emotions, and the imagination, what happens to any one part affects the others. For example, the music one listens to could very well affect what music they “hear” in a visionary mystical experience (such as a vision had by the saints). Alternatively, the poetry one reads could effect what causes a more “everyday” mystical experience (such as a profound consolation in prayer or a flash of intuition). Theoretically, this mystical experience could in turn inform or improve one’s desires, or even one’s intellect. The insights gained in a prayer consolation, for example, could conceivably cause one to learn something about God that is true but perhaps not provable.
Literature quite obviously effects the emotions of man; through these, it can also effect mysticism and other elements of the Enthusiastic part. The epic style of Paradise Lost, for example, produces an atmosphere of “gravitas” in the work that inspires the reader to treat the story of man’s fall with the depth it deserves. In A Tale of Two Cities, The detailed characterization of Lucie Manette and Madame Defarge leads the reader through a system of emotional approval and disapproval to an appreciation of virtue and a hatred of vice. The Chestertonian plots in Tales of the Long Bow draw attention and thought to the themes of the book by their humor and absurdity.
Literature also effects the imagination of man; this also can effect mysticism and the rest of the Enthusiastic part. By personifying the West Wind in “Ode to the West Wind,” Shelley engages the imagination of the reader, allowing him to enter into the emotion expressed more fully. The clever jokes in The Importance of Being Earnest could distract frivolous Victorian readers from the potentially offensive fact that they themselves are the ones being satirized, thus better allowing the message to sink in.
This definition of literature in no way excludes wide variations in the quality of things that fit the definition. According to the definition, comic books, for example, are literature because their melodramatic plotlines and exaggerated illustrations and characterizations appeal to a real set of emotions. Their plots are the result of the imaginative processes of the author and engage the imaginations of the readers. This is not to say that comic books are good literature, however. The simplicity and exaggeration of many of the plots, characters, and emotions appeal mainly to the most basic and simple elements in the Enthusiastic Part, severely limiting the breadth and depth of the ways in which the comic books can fulfill their purposes as literature.
The definition of literature also allows for wide variations in the degree in which a given work of literature fits the definition. To begin with, the Summa Theologica is not literature at all because any effect that it has on the Enthusiastic Part occurs through the ideas expressed, not through the work itself. Plato’s Republic fits the definition to a very limited degree; although it is primarily a work of philosophy like the philosophical parts of the Summa, the fact that the work is a dialogue allows for the reader’s imagination and emotions to be slightly engaged. Plato’s Phaedo is still more literary than the Republic because the emotional appeal of the martyrdom of Socrates, as well as the dialogue style, draw the reader in through his emotions. Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather is still more literary than the Phaedo because the argument of the story in favor of priestly virtue is primarily presented in the context of a story, not the context of an argument. Finally, the Song of Songs is more literary than all of the above, even though it is from the Bible, because it presents the theme of Loving Union with God (the theme most important to the Enthusiastic Part) in a way that primarily appeals to the imagination and the emotions.
Literature can be defined as written works insofar as they are allied with the Enthusiastic Part of the human person. This definition has been tested and found satisfactory. Based on the role of the Enthusiastic Part in the life of the human person, this definition highlights literature’s importance in the complete education of the human person.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Heavenly Delimma

With ev’ry day, a small bit of the veil
Is chipped away. To what’s behind I’m drawn
Like bride to groom, like groom to bride, like hail
In mad rush irresistible straight down.
And when ‘tis nearly broken through, the goal
Of this desire will but whirl around
Before I catch a glimpse, s’prise-tap me round.
This thing I want, I cannot think at all.
Unknown to me its fearfulfillment is.
I quiver, shudd’ring multiplied
In roller-coasterish wavelength harmonies
With fear of the Unknown Divine Delight.
Squeezed am I ‘twixt ice and burning sun
Ravished in terror by our God, the ONE.

Monday, October 12, 2009


BtW: The non-capitalization of rome is deliberate.

It fades. The stony trees of summertime,
Gondor and Rivendell and rome grow thin
Freeing the cold primeval. Blowing wind
Attests. Yet while the blanket rind
Wears off, it lets more brightness through
Than coldness in. And in the azure dome
The shortened daylight savory becomes
As nature’s wild challenges of true
And blessed desolation wind their bracing call.
The whiffling weather’s wind embraces all
Of this impending decline and decay.
O breathe it in, assume its joyful stance
And thoughts heroic. Face sure-coming trance
Of death or frozen delayed life. When death’s
Most sure, the heavens haunteth every breath.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Tale of Athanasius: From the Lay of the Land of the King book II

“One golden day; when from the stone-hewn plow
Which, though my frame was slight, my heart urged on,
I turned with ruddy rounded face, sweat-healthy brow,
And clothing dusted with light grassy fronds;
I gathered up the lilies of the field
And tripped with clumsy passion through the grass
For romance, clean and innocent and feeled,
Then made me love my long-known neighbor lass.
I knew not how a courter was to clad
But walked in the sun’s light in working clothes
And that I may not seem a manless lad,
I wore a sword upon my trouser-close.
All large and free and fresh and strong I felt
Just as the hedgéd field where’pon She dwelt.

She was a modest maid of quiet ways
Who passed unnoticed in her family’s home
And no one saw her worthy of a praise
When to her healthy meals they did come.
But I knew she a secret virtue had
That, did the dragon depart from the brack
And waste the meadow, I’d be knightly lad
And she the one who would my cow’rdice crack.
For when she spoke of anything at all
(How no-one saw but I?) her words would bite
Like chisels on the hardened marble wall
And truth and justice follow. Will of might!
Who by home-acts by men all counted wrong
Can do what we cannot: You make us strong!

And in this mood, this palace crystal-light
That multiplies the goods refracted there
Until they become a bewildering, bright
And glorious thing that fillés all the air,
I shattered out when crashed a clashing shout.
My love cried out with high and helpless wails!
“A cruel, cruel man is lurking hereabout
To knife me like he’s processing a whale!”
I burst in through the opened heavy door
Into the stony house (it closed behind).
And there she lay, supine upon the floor
Her father o’er her with a deranged mind.
He thought himself to force upon her there
To soil her, and tug her lovely hair.

And as he sank a knife into her side,
I drew my sword. Its loyal metal rang
One with my voice: “You shall not touch my bride!”
My sword arm flew, and all things for me sang!
But fey he was and much too quick for speed
Of mine to make a fatal, fell dispatch.
We whirled all o’er: I followed, he did lead
The crisis trumping furnishings well-matched.
And every china plate upon the shelf
Did die in willing sacrifice for her
For though she loved them like a man loves wealth,
They and she, against HIM pow’rless were.
But he was old and dull, I young and skilled
And soon I had the daughter-killer killed.

But she had not a breath. I sat and wept
Upon her hands for full space of an hour.
But as the setting sun the meadows swept
With moist and bloody light and sinking pow’r
I thought upon her corpse, that she must not
Endure without a cleansing bath of earth.
I tried the door, to dig the grave I ought
But it was locked. Of op’ning there was dearth.
I searched for the key: upon the ice
That was her father dead my hands combed:
With caress loathsome my hands searched him twice
And through the rooms vile furnishings I probed.
Then noticed I a drain upon the floor.
The keys had flowed away. Unlock! No more!

And with them went all of my waking life.
I swooned. Insensible, I sprawled upon
Her pierced side. She would have been my wife!
Would that I slept! Awake was fear, not dawn.
I started up about at three of morn,
Awake as if I’d never slept at all,
To see a glowing filament or frond
Slow-serpentine itself between the desk and wall
As if a gorge-head lurked behind the desk:
A man with woman’s features, woman’s lips
And scorpion-tails a-sprouting from his mouth
Each one a tendril, groping for my leg.
And as it grabbed my shin, the truth I saw:
It came from inside the dead father’s jaw!

The jaw was moved by an unknown force
“My dear son, Athan, list to me,” it slimed
With slowness aggravating as, perforce,
The swamp-light cloud crawled up towards my spine.
“Do not reflex toward your wanted bride,
For I, through pact immortal, have the power
To move your limbs to mutilate her side
When’er I reach your heart. The devil’s dower
I paid in life. I wished to win at whist
You see. And for my soul’s priceless excheque,
I got all powers wanted: they’re on this list
That I’ll not read, so as to take you quick.
Don’t try to stop me: you can’t love the dead’s
Cold corpses. Wait. Keep your life and head.”

And then there surged, a heavy metal-mass
Through water: soft displaced by the weight
All overwhelming of the solid facts;
Cold duty, strong and real, surpassing great
Shoving aside the loving wat’ry thing
Of romance, which though hot and compelling
Is bleached in compare to all the cries:
The cold-filled cries, yet hotter cries than “love”
The cries sans nicety all filled above
The breaking point of romance with more blyss:
The beauty, glory, majesty, desire
Of Moral Duty. I, Athanasius,
Escaping from the demon, was inspired
To slow down its effects by hero-stroke:
With my own sword, my own legs I then broke.

Then, helpless, I did writhe upon the floor
Five minutes, maybe, freed from demon’s grasp,
Yet able not to flee from the horror
Impending: my free will's last final gasp.
Then as the tendrils closed upon my breast
To hypnotize me ever for its will,
There broke upon the door another guest
Quite uninvited by the man-devil.
From his free mouth there came a blast of spells
Uncountable and rapid and devout
With flying waters spurged from leafy wells
And oils designed to drive such demons out.
For several hours they fought upon the floor
a-Wrestling, and dueling spells galore.

And when ‘twas done, the magic-man emerged
And taking out his bag of healing herbs
With incantations healed the severed legs
And raised from sleep the girl (he used a dreg).
I, Athanasius saw that love was dead.
I’d tasted magic’s work in time of need,
When only it could save from That Most Dread
And from the Chains of death, it ‘lone could free.
She woke to life, and I to bitter death
We shed great tears of wormwood at the sight
Of all the joyful life the other hath.
No sin of envy: these tears were our right.
For I knew that I must magician be
A celibate, yet still He loved She."

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Hey! If you're on Facebook....[activated_at]=1253496566&quiz_metric[clicked_attribute]=feeds_clicked

it's a quiz I made to find out what sort of imagination you have. One of AGP's friends has taken it about 6 times to see what all the possible results are. Fascinating.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

On Truth

The sleeper floats and slides in bliss of night
With dreams abounding. Facile to his will,
An endless line of decadent delight
Prostrates itself before his choice whimful.
Then presses he upon the sweetest sweet
That fits his mind like key into a lock
A sweet too perfect to be treat
Believable. Then comes the greatest shock.
He reaches for the thing. Behold! It shakes!
Transforms itself like whirlwinds made of steel
Into a monster-lion of golden make
That eats the rest of that most supine meal!
O well for you, who would those poisons eat,
They’re made by mind: the mind itself would eat.

In mind sweets, all teeth languish in the soft
And sug’ry clouds of nothing offered there.
Likewise the palate weakens slowly. Oft
There’s problems in the void, enticing air.
For if that which desired was what was,
All men would bore the faster with the earth.
The human being’s kept alive because
It’s’uprised from a Source of great rebirth.
O do not mourn, thou who hast Chocolate lost!
For candy made by minds is nothing good.
For beauties like to death, exchange for most
Solid, advent’rous, fierce, and filling food!
This thing is not a mush all soft and slack:
When you do push at truth, it pushes back!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Inspired by St. Edith Stein....

This sonnet set, in a manner similar to the "Four and a Half Romantic Sonnets" that I posted maybe about half a year ago, explore the differences between the behaviours of men and women. The first sonnet explores St. Edith Stein's idea that gender (how you think and behave) is partially independent of sex (what you are). The second explores her ideas about how men and women use their work-faculties differently.
The third explores her ideas about how men and women grow closer to God differently. The third explores her belief that it is the husband's responsibility to give himself and his wife to God. Like the last sonnet set of which I spoke, the sonnets have the tone of the man struggling with and eventually overcoming the idea of himself being pointless compared to the woman.

O Muse of Poesy, having knowledge great
Of things unproven, read for me this code:
Should I behave according to the mode
Accustomed, or with charism counter fate
And act according to ‘clination strange?
For if one’s habit-acts proceed in kind
Unnaturally from the norm arranged
By certain sex, then how shall judge our minds?
Tis best to know both masculine and male
Or rather to inquire separately?
For they are like, but not identical.
Sex, not gender, is necessary.
I know not which provides the method best
But for the present, both of them we’ll test.

What purpose serves to separate the parts
That constitute a task? Seems weakness is
At work in this. He cannot handle th’art
Of intricate yet humble task-filled webs.
Or else the things that are this kind of work
Seem to outshine, like misty gold morning,
On plains, all else, and make it look a shirk
Quite far removed from important things.
But who is man to judge upon the use
Of studies, arts, and rulings God-decreed
By Him providing their full parts and juice?
Engage then, in heroic thoughts and deeds!
It may take strength and valor to combine,
But, hero, separation’s also thine.

When one does journey, does he take a road
To see a friend, on which he swerves aside
To paint a picture, kill a dragon-toad
Or else? Or does he direct ride?
When with a blazing love and loyalty
A man is fired, like a lightning flash
Or lava flow that slow engulfs a tree
Why does he burn the tree, and not just crash
Straight through to love the one he loves? Both ways
He groweth strong with exercize of love
So why, when pathway straight is good pathway
Does loyalty divert the thoughts of love?
It is because one does not love the less.
Love’s r’ward’s prompted, deferred by willingness.

Why would one choose a living book of lore
Arcane or with no ready-to-hand use,
A near machine that rituals galore
Pour forth from for the things that it does choose,
To be the channel through which waters new-
Expelled from Mother, from the skies azure,
And from the channel’s very walls, shew
Their joyful burbling to give God pleasure?
The channel’s virtues are its contents bright
And all the love with which they’re placed before
The throne of God. And this master of lore,
Whose sex does sometimes seem to be a blight,
Was chosen for his truly ritual dance
So e’en gift-ACT is love-obedience.

So never fear, man: you’re not challenged least.
Love you don’t lack, nor privilege of the priest.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Rap came up in conversation today...someone tried to say that it was a legitimate form of artistic expression.

What was he talking about, for goodness' sake! Art's not about expression!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Necessity (not the use) of Poetry

Usually, I am a little put off by those writings that begin “there are two types of people.” Today, however, I am not. There are two types of people, those who think that the truth is outside their own heads, and those who do not.

As those of you who read this blog know, there are ways of communicating to those in the first category. You find your evidence, make your case, and hope that either you already agree with the other person, the other person is honest enough to believe your case, or that you are honest enough to believe theirs.

To those in the second category, however, communication seems like an impossibility. When anyone communicates, they take their concepts out of their heads and put them in the heads of others. For those in the second category, however, this is very difficult for several reasons:

1: Are there any others? (Extreme Cartesianism)
2: If there are others, is there any medium by which I can send my concepts to them? (Extreme Deconstructionalism)
3. If it’s all in the head, how can my concepts have validity for others, or theirs for me? (Relativism, even the non-extreme kind)

People of categories one and two are rare, for to believe either of those two positions requires enough knowledge, education, and intelligence to ask the necessary questions. You cannot be indoctrinated into being a Cartesian because the normal experiences of everyday life indoctrinate you into being an anti-Cartesian so much more effectively. You cannot be an extreme Deconstructionalist at all and remain sane because if language has no meaning, than the statement “language has no meaning” has no meaning. But people can, and are, indoctrinated into being relativists.

Unless you are a relativist yourself, you think that they are wrong and ought to mend the error of their thoughts. Yet, it is quite impossible to communicate anything relevant to them using the method of case-and-evidence.

Therefore, write poetry!

One cannot convince a consistent relativist of Truth by proofs. Proofs deal with truths and thus have no common ground with the relativist. What does have common ground with them is that which is not true or false, those things which have always been inside their heads. And among these are desires, passions, pleasures, pains, tragedies, laughters, fascinations, lifes, and loves: the very stuff of poetry.

He who addresses a relativist must be exceedingly crafty. His prime concern must appear to be not truth, but the beauty produced when his work meets the mind of the relativst.

In fact, it would be best if his prime concern actually was beauty, for then he is honest. But then, how does he convince the relativist?

His work must be made in such a way that its beauty is dependent on the truth in it. If he writes a beautiful poem about a tree, it must be so made that if you take away the truth about the tree, the beauty of the poem vanishes. If he wishes to excite passion for the truth, the essence of his work must be such that passion for the truth is essential to it: remove the passion and the work vanishes.

If he does these things, there is some hope that the relativist, in swallowing the beauty, will swallow the truth as well, and come to love it and believe it.

The one who wishes to possess truth and give it to others must know a great many things. It is a great misfortune that some who are knowledgable about the fundamentals of truth-finding and truth-communicating (metaphysics) and who are enthusiastic about giving truth away dislike poetry, the way in which truth seduces the myriads of those who hate it.

Monday, August 31, 2009

So I revisited my Jacques Maritain book....

And here's what I found.

1. Maritain, like Wood, thinks that an important element in the work of art is its form/unity. To the extent that the work is one and is a thing, it is good objectively (and i know you don't care about that, Don Pedro!). This would throw many modern artists out.

2. Maritain also places great importance on the 'artistic habit.' This is the grasp that the artist has of the rules of his art. Maritain does not tell what these rules are (he is no artist, although he does know his art history and criticism). He does provide advice on how to teach the habit, however, advocating the use of apprenticeships, not academia.

One of the aesthetic ideas that seems to flow from one and two is that the trained artist, not the philosopher, is the one most qualified to judge the quality of a work of art from his own discipline. Based on the sheer variety of forms and the practical and intuitive nature of the artistic habit, it also seems to imply that the rules for making good art are far harder to articulate and far subtler than something along the lines of "tonality" for example. I can gather nothing about whether or not he would say (as I do) that tonality is superior to atonality, all other things being equal.

3. The artist's primary concern should be to make as good of a work as possible, not to tell a theme, serve a purpose (as in music for relaxation, for example), or make money. Themes and purposes are not bad, but to not ruin the work, they have to be incorporated into the essence of what the art is. If the art is squeezed and stretched to fit the theme or purpose, the art is what we call preachy (Maritain doesn't actually say that, but you can guess it).

4. Art is not the same as morality or prudence or metaphysics. The artist who makes an excellently made sinful work is a good artist but a bad human being. Art is to the making faculty of man what metaphysics is to his mind: both deal with issues of matter, form, and the like. But art does not know them and should not try. It merely makes them.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

A Fable for Interpretation

Once upon a time, a European trader who had never been to India arrived for the first time in that ancient land. As he was walking the streets from the port to the market, he saw a snake-charmer sitting by the roadside. The charmer played an incoherent jumble on his pipe, and the snake slithered upwards and swayed to the music.

"What a poor musician you are." the European observed "I know a great deal about the Indian musical tradition" (which was true) "and I know that you play very poorly, without any sense of unity of melody."

"Sit here and play it yourself" the Indian suggested dispassionately.

The instrument was about six inches long and was very similar to the a recorder. The European picked it up and began to play an English marching song. The snake attacked him and bit him. He died.

"The poor unfortunate fellow." the indian observed sadly. "He didn't understand that while I do make music, my real work of art is the proper union of the music with the snake. All would do well to remember this. It destroys all differences between the objective value of the art and judgements of taste."

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Lay of the Land of the King: Book the First

In which the king rescues a boy from the Vale of Thry to be put into his service.

Canto I

Within a vale of green, upon a hill
Both small and rich, where chickens ranged about,
Where men and women lived, and had good will,
And where the sky did smile on all things out,
There lived a faml’yd boy of modest birth
Beguiled and read of books of fantasy,
Of gods and heroes from around the earth,
Of bonzelike mages working magically.
No stupid boy was he, although a brain
Of genius stature possesséd he not.
He tended crops, bewailed the pouring rain,
Sat down to read, and ran when Sun came out.
And none of them that lived in town did guess
That he would grow to save their happiness.

Canto II

In dripping caves where dankness’s looming breath
Unluminates an atmosphere of gloom
The Rebels gathered round to talk of death
To everyone who lived outside that room.
Like men seemed they, though gruesome and defiled.
Their horrid hides hid haunting organisms
With eyes that blazed with knowledge fell and wild
And noses smelling power through nose-spasms.
Of plots they spoke: of building living cranes
By which they’d dangle humans over knolls
Of poison-flower covered quicksand plains
And thus increase their deadly, hellish tolls.
No goal had they. Plots gave their lives no spice.
They hated their own King and wished malice.

Canto III

The centerpiece, the Rome of this fair land
Where peasants dwelt while Rebels peril brewed,
Was filled with all its ruler’s many hands
And eyes and mouths by which his land was ruled.
Benign was he, this ruler of the realm
Who dwelt in house of gold, not built by slaves
But by his many subtle powers alone.
Far-great was he, deserving of all praise.
And on this day, when whispers of “the plot”
Imbued the merry air with grayish tint,
He called his min’sters all, to test the blot
And see what could be done in spite of it.
And they all formed a council wondrous wise
Who’d meet the deadly plot with live surprise.

Upon his left sat his most trusted aide
Like man he seemed, although of wav’ring sort
With skin that did with armor plating trade
Its look, its notion, and warlike comport.
And then there sat a man who fused with fish
Seeméd to be, though one could not describe
Just where discerned there was to be this fish.
And in his hand he held some healthy dyes.
Across the row from King, there sat a man
Who seeméd stretched, like cords of telephone
Across the silent space of sky and land
And yet, he seeméd more than skin and bones.
And on the right hand of this glorious king,
There sat his Great Queen, loved above all things.

“Your worship,” said the head, the warlike one,
“You know The Rebels, who denied your rule
So many moons ago, ‘fore years did run,
Are once again fermenting malice cruel.”
“Prosperity” the fishlike healer said
“Although an august landlord, is not a king
Who plans for all his subjects well ahead.
From their excess is where this fester rings.”
“Indeed, I sat within their walls of cave
(Within, and not betwixt, the walls was I)
I heard them plot and rant and plot and rave
Do burn the town most pure in Vale of Thry.”
(These words were spoken by the third great lord
In order that dark secrets might be heard.)

“As wielder of your pow’r, I beg to speak”
The warlike one revealed, “If by your leave
I ventured to the vile cave, your strength
Which all do know is limitless, would cleave
The evil end from end.” With laughter glowed
The golden room like fertile unfarmed sheaves
Do fill a silo when the stomach’s whole
The laughter of the King! “We thank you, sir.
The realm is mine, and all who dwell within.
These problems serve as tests where they may turn
To better things unknown. And only sin
Makes most great change into honor and love
Therefore, help’s of themselves, and not above.”

Canto IV

Upon a day within the Vale of Thry,
The boy, in feyful mood that’s caused by books,
Did step out into lawn and ground and sky,
In search for something magical. He shook!
For every day of every year he’d moped
That he could not, by drinking potion rare
Or chanting words, move even his light cloak.
Yet when his hope was least, its goal was there!
Uncurling like a watchly-pendulum
As languid and as quick as op’ning bud
A deadly nightshade plant popped from the scrum
And grew to full-grown size like oozing blood.
And then he saw that every day for weeks
It had approached his house like this, like feet.

All awestruck by this obvious conjure
The child, hardly daring to approach
For fear of poison’ng powers long abjured
By everyone, on encroacher did encroach.
And then a rattle of unfitting wind
Did overturn the sensual leaf. Revealed
Upon the side that closer lives to sin:
Downside leaves of night with stars a-pearled.
His eyes did see this velvet blue but more
In that small fateful moment held the leaf.
A full-black shape, a groping hand of war
Did flow from it, OUT of the thrice-thin leaf.
Upon the foot of child the hand did start
Then, groping up, sans wrist, it felt his heart.

And then, a spot of wet was by them felt
Like cleansing rain, although from bush, not mist
And the hand fell, like newly curéd welt
And went away. And as it went, it hissed.
The bush then shook. The boy approached, of course
And, parting branches, saw a silken shoe
Perform a loop. He saw invis’ble force
Was flipping a strange man, just out of view.
What sort of magician would flip himself?
Or cause another to be thus so flipped?
And why did he not want it to be smelt
By anyone who through the grove did trip?
He parted branches, then he saw The Feet
Soft walking on the grass, yet floating o’er it!

Canto V

There weren’t just feet this time, but also legs
Attachéd to a thin, but full grown, man.
“O child, know ’twas I who cast the dreg
That rescued you,” he said “from phantom hand.”
“’Twas you who flipped as well?” the child asked.
The man’s thin face turned down in light disgust.
“Ah yes it was. ‘Twas not my power tasked
But rather that of King, a distant gust.
To me he has just given commission
To find and bring you to his distant school
Where you’ll be taught his legal cantations.”
“That’s great!” the child said. “Not cool?
I like it. You omit that cliched word
But soon you must depart your home and world.”

And so into the child’s house they stepped
To say goodbye unto his mother fair.
And premonition on the child crept
That he’d not see her there, or anywhere.
But then her smile, like glaze upon her face
That has its shape, yet shows what’s under through,
Betrayed her worry that they’d be erased
But also showed her joy at what he’d do.
“My son,” she spoke with tones of ancient grace
Crafted with labor, like a violin,
That makes a home a soaring, joyful place.
She spoke no more, but merely embraced him.
And lest it seem their parting was too fast
The messenger, he would not let it last.

For all at once, the roof did burst apart
And flaming dogs, like hailstones, blasted through
Assaulting the sad scene of broken hearts
But not the third one. He knew what to do.
Invoking mysteries on a nearby pot,
He then o’er turned it. Furious and fay,
The frothy flow extinguished the dogs hot
Then grabbéd he the child’s arm. Away!
They ran, while Zeus’s lightning bolts
Imploded walls. Construction in reverse
Collapsed the house as quick as earthquake jolts
Cause colonies of fleas to be dispersed.
The two, fleeing the chaos, did not rest
Until they reached the nearby green forest.

Canto VI

“My mother!” sobbed the boy from calmer wood,
“I fear you die!” but then the master said
“I would not fear for her, they’re after you!
The selects of the king are often dead.”
He built a fire from some nearby sticks
And threw upon it powder smelling sweet
“Such pantomimic deadlies will end quick
For they will flee this fire on fleet feet”
“Who are these they, and why do they want me?”
The boy inquired, worried but intrigued.
The master spoke: “They are an enemy
Who keeps you from the service of the king.
But now the time comes, now it is the age
For your first lesson as the King’s new page.

When light was newly made and stars were young,
And one fell Power ruled the world
As absolute as lightning’s whiteness flung
Upon the darkened sky, it then was heard
That thrown against this ordered, whirling state
Opposing all its per’lous perfect poise
One sole ambitious mind, both free and great,
Did seek to make orig’nal things and toys.
And so in search of equal majesty
Where monarchs none there were to take and tax
Those things that seeméd not to be their fee
This spirit shook the kingdom ruled. His back
Denied accustomed load, did straighten out
Never again to bend or bow or pout.

He poised himself in midst of lily-pond
And with his power, with dreamy, curling grace,
Did spike some lilies that grew quite close around
With hollow, brilliant jewels. And then effaced
The lilies were: like lotus they became.
Arrived then the allies of the first,
With sweet and sinuous wounding words they came
To dwell within the lotuses new-birthed.
All burn within that dry and freezing pond
Where nothing dwells, except alluring flowers
That fade away when touched, mere dreams bedrawn
From heartless passion, inf’nite-licensed powers,
And weightless stones of might. Then comes a knife
That cuts aside the beauty of false life.

This tale is not a thing on how to rhyme,
But works on our minds all subconsciously.
The jewels, my son, prefigure…” Then, a vine
Curled up into a cobra strikingly.
The tale’s decode was ended as the wood
Broke into tree-ish ranks of phalanxes
That aimed their spears upon the master good
Too many to be cowed by woodsman’s axes.
Tell, poet, of the running that ensued:
Bark flying like the bullets of the gun
Thry’s boy with his old master good
By speed alone did they the chaos shun.
There are some who lament a forest fire
But more than burning, THIS made the trees tire.

Canto VII

When night was come, and all the air was dark
And tightly wound around the tensile spring
Of danger and adventure, Lo! A spark!
And with a wooden brand concealed, burning
And lighting stones with eerie orange glow
They lightly ran along the quiet path
The humid air about them. All its flow
Embraced them like impending peril’s waft.
They ran all of the night until their bones
Did turn from structurals to drums a-beat
Of tired agony unfit for stones
For both their lives depended on their feet;
Then cast themselves upon savannah space;
Then rose they with the moon, again to pace.

Then when the boy from Thry could go no more
And tripping on the very air he fell
The two looked up (the man had bent to floor
To help him nicely as he could). The swell
Of beats of fainting, tired hearts increased
To frantic pace as fin’lly they beheld
Their palace-goal, with all its floors of fleece.
Its walls were thick, and sweetly flowed its well.
Then realized they that danger now was past
And, slowing their exhausted step, they strode
With regal beat the journey’s paces last.
Behind them, strong kind gates were slowly closed
And with them closed the days of Thry’s small vale.
A strange new life would this great change entail.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

My Personal Library

I recently went through the exercise (and I think you should too) of looking through my family's library and deciding which things I thought I would want to take with me, should I ever leave the library behind. I selected based on my opinion of them, whether I thought I would need my own personal copy (not just a library copy) and the likelihood of them being in another library (I didn't take Frankenstein for example). A book could either fit category 2 or categories 3+1 to be selected. Some Chesterton works only fit #1.

And then, when I was done, I arranged them. Not historically, and not alphabetically, but in quite another fashion. I arranged them in order from most Literary to Most Theoretical, which sort of corresponds to Most Dionisyian to Most Apollonian. Now that you know what Dionisian and Apollonian mean, (if you read the last post) you might want to see my list and my ordering. Please comment on my arrangement. Books that are both very Apollonian and very Dionisyan are generally placed close to the middle.

List of books from Most Literary to Most Theoretical

Category 1: Poetry

The Yale Complete works of Shakespeare
The Odes of Horace

Category 2: Prose

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, with notes by Joseph Pearce
Nancy Drew: the Thirteenth Pearl
The Hardy Boys: While the Clock Ticked

Intermediate Category 1: Historical Fiction

Come Rack! Come Rope! By Robert Hugh Benson (a story about Catholics in Elizabethian times)
Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
Spanish Lover by Spearman (the story of Don Juan of Austria)

Intermediate category 2: Literary Criticism

A Student’s guide to Classics
The Politically Incorrect guide to English and American Literature by Elizabeth Cantor
Shadowplay by Claire Asquith (Sort of like the Da Vinci Code for Shakespeare, except that it’s
both scholarly and rabidly pro-Catholic.)

Intermediate category 3: The Silmarillion

Category 3: History, Theology, and practical matters

St. Francis of Assisi by GK. Chesterton
G.K. Chesterton on War and Peace (Nespaper articles written around WWI)
33 Questions about American History you’re not supposed to Ask by Thomas Woods
The Bible
The Everlasting man by GK Chesterton (The theoretical midpoint of the collection)
The American Boy’s handy book
The Student’s guide to the Core Curriculum by Mark Henrie
The Student’s guide to Liberal Learning by Father James V. Schall
The Philosophy of Tolkien by Peter Kreeft
Saint Thomas Aquinas by GK Chesterton
The Story of Thought by Brian Magee (history of philosophy)
The Catechism (book on Catholic doctrine)

Category 4: Art Theory

The Elements of Music by Ralph Turek
The Art of Counterpoint

Intermediate category 4: Aesthetics

Placing Aesthetics by Robert H Wood
Art And Scholasticism by Jaques Maritain

Category 5: Philosophy

Philosophy 101 by Peter Kreeft
Socrates meets Marx by Peter Kreeft
Socrates meets Descartes by Peter Kreeft
The Hellenistic Philosophers (selections from Stoics, Epicureans, etc)
Thomas Aquinas on Human Nature (Selections from Summa, commentaries, etc)
Five Texts on the Mideval Problem of Universals (If you don’t understand the title, don’t read the book.)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Metaphysical Bases of Apollonian and Dionisian

“Whether the Supreme Ecstasy is more affectional than intellectual is no very deadly matter of quarrel among men who believe it is both.”

--G.K. Chesterton, Saint Thomas Aquinas

There’s a great and stunning, but also commonsensical, revelation in the quote above: the idea that both contemplation and desire/fulfillment are routes to, and experiences of God. This is not the time, place, or writer to detail how this is done, or which way is more effective for human beings (do both!) but as for their place in art…that’s another matter. Placing the word art in a topic automatically makes it fit for this blog. Hee Hee!
I am one of those troublesome sorts of people who doesn’t really think I understand a thing until I can give it some sort of metaphysical classification. As far as I can tell, all sorts of things seem to fall into three broad categories. Two are fairly simple. First comes those things that really are, things like cows, iron, et cetera. Then comes those things that are only when they come in contact with other things, things like the emotional content in a piece of music, colors, proportions, et cetera.
Finally, and most difficultly, come those things that are a little bit of both, or “fuzzy things.” A good example is the Idea of Large. “Larger” means something, and “Smaller” means something, but “Large” and “Small” are completely relative. To call a thing “Large” is meaningless, except in comparison to something else.
Unfortunately, it is easy to mistake the things in the second or third categories for real things. When I listen to a sad piece of music, for example, I would be foolish to say that the music is actually sad: no misfortune has happened in the music, and music does not actually feel sad. What I mean when I say the music is sad really means that I am sad because of the music. When I can’t solve the Sorites paradox, I mistake a thing in the third category for something real (read, and attempt to solve, the Sorites paradox here: If you can‘t solve it, ask for my solution.).
Which category do the affective (art as a means for awakening/fulfilling desire) and contemplative (art as an intellectual exercise) artistic qualities fall into? It must exist in one of them. Here’s why:

Everything that exists is either in the mind of the thinker, or not in the mind of the thinker (category 1).
Everything that exists in the mind of the thinker either is a successful subject of the Sorites paradox (more on this later, but this is category 3) or it is not (category 2).

Because of human nature, it is tempting to classify art on a Category 3-esque contemplative vs. affective scale (I will, from now on, use the philosophical terminology: “Apollonian” for Intellectually-disposed things, and Dionysian for affective/desire disposed things See Robert Wood‘s chapter on Plato for evidence that this usage is correct) , and make statements like “This work is more Dionysian than Apollonian” or “This work is more Dionysian than that work.” This is because, for humans (and Vulcans) desire can cloud our thinking and thought weaken our desires. How many of us have had the experience of liking something less because we had to study it?
It is also tempting to place the two in Category 2. This is perhaps the simplest explanation. If something stimulates my mind, it is Apollonian. If something stimulates my desire, it is Dionisian. And if it stimulates both, it is both.
And I, of course, am always tempted to put as much as possible into category 1, because it’s the most objective of the three. I don’t want to know what a thing is through a lens of subjectivity (category 2) or as a mere illusion (category 3). But which one is it really? And what’s the big deal?
We can effectively eliminate Category 3 from our discussion by means of the Sorites paradox. Oh wait…I probably had better tell you what that is.

The Sorites Paradox:

Consider a heap of sand. If you remove one grain, is it still a heap? How about two? How about three? How about…..?

Although the subject of the paradox is the heap of sand, it does not need to be a heap of sand. Any number of things will do. The keys to a successful subject of the Sorites paradox is that the subject’s existence must be a matter of degree, not type, and that the two qualities that are the matter of degree must be a positive and a negative, not two positives. For example, “Functional Pancreas” is not a successful subject because if you remove a certain number of molecules (the number might vary from pancreas to pancreas, but will still be a definite number), the pancreas will no longer be able to function. “Red material object” is also not a successful subject because insofar as something is not red, it is another color, and the object remains a red object percentage-wise (gaining another quality percentage-wise as well, such as green) insofar as it is even partially red.
Apollonian or Dionysian in a work of art does not fulfill the Sorites paradox. Although it may be the case that often by removing Apollonianness, Dionysianness increases (and vice versa), this is not always the case. If I compose a desire-awakening melody (the object of the desire is not important for the example, so long as it is not desire for the Apollonian), for example, it does not necessarily become less desire-awakening by being made into a fugue.
Therefore, the qualities of Apollonian and Dionysian belong in Category 1, Category 2, or both. This places them within the realm of “verifiables,” things which can be precisely defined. What is their precise definition? How can we render them to be more than general atmospheres?
The ultimate definition is a definition in metaphysical terms. The metaphysical definition of fish, for example, is that which has the essence of fish. Of course, then a definition of essence of fish is required. Contrast this example with another metaphysical definition: “Sad music is that which causes emotions with the essence of sadness to be provoked in the listener.” The metaphysical definitions tell us which category the thing falls in. Fish, where fish is defined by essence of fish, is a Category 1 thing, whilce Sad music, where
Chesterton’s quote gives a clue for a Category 1 definition of Apollonian and Dionysian by stating that the Vision of God is both Apollonian and Dionysian. God, of course, is Existence Itself. What is perhaps less known about God is that He also contains within Himself the “originals” of the essences (an essence is the whatness of a thing) of all things as well. (The proof of this is beyond the scope of this post, but it’s in the Summa, trust me. It‘s also in the “Writing Rules For Atheists” post, rendered into heroic couplets.) Because all existent things must have essence and existence, it would make sense if it were possible to define Apollonian and Dionysian in terms of essence and existence.
As was stated above, the Apollonian concerns itself with intellect, culminating in the Beatific Vision, while the Dionysian concerns itself with desire, culminating in the Beatific Union. It is in the nature for desire to desire existent beings: things like food, water, pleasure, and the like. Even objects of desire like Dragons fall under this category: one who desires a dragon desires a dragon to exist, desires to bring into existence the perfect subjective/literary dragon, etc. Intellect, however, observes and thinks. The most fundamental observation of the intellect is “Things exist.” This statement requires the observation of things and existence and an intuitive knowledge that things are different from existence. Additionally, the intellect can think of essence without existence and existence without essence, as when one thinks of a unicorn or Prime Matter. Therefore, in terms of essence and existence, intellect “takes apart,” while desire “puts together.”
Dionysian art, therefore, emphasizes the union of essence and existence in things, while Apollonian art emphasizes the essence and existence separately. The increase of one does not necessarily mean the decrease of the other. St. Peter’s Basillica, for example, obviously emphasizes the union of essence and existence in things by its overabundance of things more than a simple building that used the same amount of material. However, this does not downplay either the symmetry (akin to essence) or immensity (akin to existence) of St. Peter’s compared to the hypothetical building. I do not know if this emphasis on the togetherness/separateness of essence and existence can be achieved objectively (and thus be Category 1), but the point is that it can be achieved and defined as either Category 1or category 2. (It does seem to me that an increase in complexity is objectively Dionysian, while an increase in size + symmetry is objectively Apollonian.) The Baroque is not necessarily irrational; the Renaissance is not necessarily cold, unfeeling and unsatisfactory. As both are beautiful, the artist will do well to use both simultaneously.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

"My Church" In Florence

This is the church where I went to daily mass in Florence. It is called Santissima Annunziata and is blessed with a miraculous painting of the Annunciation and the body of St. Juliana Falconeri. It is Baroque (with an amazing ceiling). The painting is of David Dancing Before the Ark. The high altar (the one without the painting) is under the large dome. The monks say the morning office in a walled in area behind the altar. It was my favorite church in Florence.

Finally, the Three C's!

computer, Camera, and cable! More pictures from italy!. I'm not going to include them all because I have about 800!

Fr. Kane at St. Peters

Rafael's chapel at Santa Maria del Popolo

St. John Lateran, the Ceiling of St. John Lateran, And two pictures of the canopy of St. John Lateran. A debate: Which canopy picture is better? One is more accurate, but the other portrays the atmosphere better.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Writing Rules for Athiests

It's very preachy. But when you set the Argument from Causation and the "Third Large" argument into heroic couplets, preachiness is kind of hard to avoid. And the thing I'm preaching against ends up looking just as preachy as what I'm preaching for.

To every man who falsifies a thing,
There ought to come a time (the fact is rare
Except in realm of belief-mind) when their
False forgery is to the real compared.
And in this final test, they shake and sing
With jitters like a high-school musical
Full-hoping that their skill is hidden well.
This thing might save some folks from horrid hell,
Yet done it’s ever not, this wondrous thing.

Yet once there was an atheist who sat
Exam’ning bills and coins, to see their worth
See if they had a true and minted birth
Such a job was very detailed work.
And every day he looked at this and that
Examining the currency reprints
For counterfeits, subversives to the prince
And honest work of thinking labor whence
Would come the story we do here recap.

For by and by the money flew so thick
That goodly coin and counterfeit were one.
Of course he lost his job (a gainful one)
And by and by became immersed in fun

And turned to writing tales. No tales of God
Would he relate. An athiest was he,
Not a denier, who, though he thinks God Be,
Denies His Existence most spitefully.
Attempted he to take all trace of God
Out of his tales he penned in idle time
And forméd he a list of Godly rhyme
That would be scraped away like muddy grime
Away from his new tale so very Mod.

And here’s the list of his forbidden things:

Societies, economies, and arts
(For these rely on morals in the heart)
All happiness beyond ephermal bliss
(For if God’s not, no lasting pleasure is)
Profoundish thoughts and thinking on our lives
(For meaning ends is what such things imply)
All his penned men lived inside Ure’s torte
And all their lives were nasty, brutish, short.

Then, he did think about his written world,
Upon the theme of whether it implied
In its integral shape, a Divinized
Imaginary there necessetized.
Then haunted him a vague foreboding old
Implying that he missed a Godly blot
And that He’d sneak in (“Even though He’s not”)
Despite the author’s very bestest shot
In subtle form quite metaphysical.

Began he then upon a thoughtful stream
Considering what “materialist” means:
“There’s only matter, spirit’s gone” quoth he,
“It behoovs them to be or not to be.

Or are there things that are or aren’t, or are
There only things of which the things are made?
No, there are things. If not, than that would bar
The structures real from being even made.
So there are things that are, or they are not.
But whether are or not, the things remain
Like unicorns, or trees, or hybrids wrought
In future times by cunning human brains.
Hence it is true that what is must be caused
For its being is not necessity.
The men in tales by peopleness are caused.
Peopleness and being, certainly.
But then how shall we ever make an end?
For in this, Peopleness is like to men!

But can it be that what a something is
Itself provides itself with being power?
Then there would be no difference ‘twixt the “is”
And the true fact that it was tree, or flower.
And with no difference tween these needful two
Existence, meaning same in all that are,
Would be sole molder of the what and who
Rendering same all the things near and far.
Something must be in which the “what” and “is”
Are one and same, and yet it has been shown
That there cannot be more than one of these
For different things must differ. That is known.
But if there is but one Existent True
How differs it from God? This will not do!

And so the writer made a second list
Of things that with his doctrine would not fit.

Permitted not were things of actual types
(Like quarks and leptons, vitamins, and kites)
Which have objective diff’rence from things else.
And through this rule there were removed from tales

People, puppies, planets, plants,
Poverty, plutocrats, pandas, pebbles
and everything
As well as everything else that was different.

And thus the athiest ended up with no story.

Therefore all you who read: it is proclaimed
That when we speak of var’ous types of things
Implied by this, by necessity named,
Is God, the Source and Summit of All Things.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Best part of the trip so far (except for one, but youàll see that later): going to Anzio with Fr. Mitchell, Fr. Kane, seminarian Steven Mills, and some other Nebraska people (nobodyàs wearing their clerics, by the way, so look carefully at the faces to see whoàs who. Fr. Kane has his back to us). Most of the pictures are of the American cemetery, but there are two of the beach and one of the train station.

First Few Hours in Rome...enjoy!

This is the High Altar at Saint Mary Major

This is the Manger of Jesus at St. Mary Major. Its the best reason to go there because the basillica is too in your face baroque.

This is me at St. Mary Major. I used Spanish to get this picture (it was taken by a woman from Argentina).

This is the courtyard of the La Casa di Amy hotel

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

But Look anway.

If I have internet in Florence I will be sending lots of pictures to this blog in June. Woo Hoo!

Warning. We Hibernate in the Summer

As I am out of school and not supposed to post from home, there will be very few posts this summer, I think. So if you visit every day, be prepared for a very conservative (as in unchanging) blog.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

To the Air

They look at you with gaze eternal, bright
The clouds and sun, the lords of sky and soil,
And fill you, as a basin, with their light
Till very Emptiness shines as a foil.
The bleached clouds make perfect fifthes ring
For sky is neither overwhelmed nor brash
And like the crystal curtain of the rain,
The light processes downward like a wash.
And from my glassy realm that colors all,
Resplendent visions do my eyes embrace
For here the languid tart airs of the fall
Join with the airs of joyful springtime’s grace!
Not air are you, O Neighbor, Firmament,
You are a pool of water heavensent!

> An essay inspired by the ideas from a chapter in a dissertation written by a

> Q: When is a merely personal opinion no longer merely personal?
> A: When it comes from the imagination.
> You’ve probably all had the experience (and if you haven’t you’re behind in
your life experiences), of being deeply moved or impressed by something without
knowing why. Like when I saw a Rocky-mountain wildflower and immediately
identified it with Tolkien’s Niphrediphil, or when a dreaméd pinnacle of stone
frightened me beyond all previous nightmares by saying “One.” If we think about
such things too hard (and even if we don’t) we can find edifying lessons in such
things for ourselves. But in the mystic mind of George MacDonald, these lessons
are more than just “private revelation;” they are much more, approaching the
power of objective fact.
> No human artist creates from nothing. From this, MacDonald draws the
conclusion that when an artist does make things, he uses the materials given to
him by God. Hence, by necessity, the makings of the artist are more than the
artist could ever have in his mere intentions. As one person differs from
another, so do their perceptions of this more-ness. When one person perceives
more-ness where it truly is, their perception is true, whether anyone else sees
it or not. And the imagination is one of the faculties by which this
individually perceived more-ness is seen.
> Although I know of no defense offered by MacDonald for this assertion
concerning the imagination, such a defense does exist.
> Consider first the phenomenon of color. What we call color is the result of
interaction between the thing seen and the one seeing; it does not exist in the
thing seen itself. In the case of color, it is absurd to suppose, however, that
because the attribute of color is a subjective phenomenon, the relationship
between the thing and the color was not the result of a specific Intention of
God the Creator. Supposing such a thing would make God seem a slob, denying
artistry to a significant aspect of the psyche when He gives such artistry to
far less significant psychological elements.
> When we see something outside ourselves as uniquely moving (or as anything,
for that matter) by means of our imagination, this perception of the unique
value of the thing, like the perception of color, is also the result of the
interaction between the seer and the thing seen. So if one finds a particular
landscape numinous, for example, such a perception will be the result of the
union of the landscape with their imagination. God knew from all eternity that
that particular person would have that reaction to the thing seen and designed
the thing that way so as to evoke the reaction. In the case of colors, the
reaction, though it itself was not the object perceived, was symbolic of
something about the object, at least that the object reflected light waves of a
certain range of frequencies. In the case of the numinous response, one could
say the same thing, that the feeling of numinousness is symbolic of the fact
that the object manifested God’s presence in a haunting way.
> Either the imagination is always a faulty instrument of perception, the moods
it perceives having no correspondence in the object perceived, or it is not, and
there can sometimes be something in the object that corresponds to the mood felt
in the imagination. But it is not commonsensical for the imagination to be an
always faulty instrument. Consider the imaginatively-perceived emotion of
sadness. While there may not be anything inherently sad in the object
perceived, it is unquestionable that the sadness is a symbol of some amiss-ness
or evil in the object. And once you begin to treat the imagination like a
sense, where can you draw the line that represents where the valid judgments of
imagination end?
> Problems and solutions in this line of thought:
> “John” is a Shakespeare expert who happens to be so well-versed in the
Shakespeare theories of Claire Asquith that her ideas reside in his unconscious
mind rather than his unconscious mind. After seeing a performance of “As You
Like It,” his imagination, moved by the play, moves him to pursue the
priesthood. He does not know it, but the reason he feels this way is because
Orlando and Rosalind, according to Asquith, symbolically represents expatriate
Englishmen who return as Jesuit missionaries and their devotion to the Church,
thus encouraging the romantic feelings awakened by the comedy to be transformed
into ideas of more mystical love. His imagination is engaged in this perception
of the relationship between the romance of “As You Like It” and the self-giving
to the Church required by the priest, it is true, but the perception is
“explainable,” and thus, it seems, is a moderated, and thus untrustable
perception. Does it have objective merit unseen by the unprepared viewer, as
MacDonald would have us believe?
> There is, in fact, no conflict between the imagination’s sight and this
situation. When one reads, one sees words and sees their meanings by observing
the other words nearby and, in narrative, by remembering (sometimes
unconsciously) the words that came before. This is a sort of “contextual” way
of deriving meaning in language. When the imagination sees a meaning in a
thing, nothing prevents context, including what one knows about the thing
unconsciously, from shaping the meaning. God knows all the contextual
situations that one’s imagination would ever be placed in and, as the Eternal
Creator, has created the contextual situations just as He created every
individual thing. Thus, every meaning derived through contextual imagination
does not have less value because of the contextualization.
> But the imagination must be genuinely the thing moved. For a mathematical
person to be interested by the music of Milton Babitt is not an imaginative
happening; interest in mathematics is primarily in the realm of the intellect,
not the imagination. The imaginative interest one might have in profanity also
is not the proper imagination; it is fallen imagination at work that leads to
such a conclusion in that case. Were there any person who, with pure unfallen
imaginative interest, was moved by the music of Babitt, it would be prudent to
conclude that such music probably does have hidden merit. I know of no such
person. But pure imagination moves the minds of the watchers of Shakespeare.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Contra Propaganda

Okay okay, Chesterton didn't really say that. But maybe he would agree. :-) There has been some propaganda on the blog "Kindred Ink" reguarding a form of early American folk dancing known as contra dancing. I hope the offended parties will accept my apology for the use this communist technique. :-)

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Note: Please take this in the spirit it was intended. It is all in good fun. :-)

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Bad Boy!

Bite the Bullet, Billy Boy,
Don't be a bloody, bashful boy,
Bloated with big, unBewailed blunders
Bemoan your badness, though mother thunders.

First Summary of "Placing Aesthetics"

General: Art is of two kinds: representative (it means something) and formal (it has worth by its form alone, without meaning). Purely representative art is usually not considered art: prose, for example is completely representative language, while poetry is representative/formal.

Plato: Believed in dual moralistic and "ascendic" character of the arts. Any art can be conducive to morality, of course. Ascendic art, however, is that art which awakens within us desire for God. It does this in two ways. The first is by allowing us to contemplate form, both as an observer and an artist. This enables us to think more about forms themselves rather than being limited to particulars (material beings). Through this encounter with form, the path is open for us to be able to see Beauty itself.
Some works of art will be so constructed as to evoke in particular observers an intensified desire and awareness for Beauty, and lead us ever closer to union with it.

Aristotle: Believed that the moralistic element of art also included catharsis, the purgation of negative emotions by presenting them as art, such as in tragedy. Developed a test for formfulness: lack of superfluous elements. Believed that music was an imitative art, imitating character.

Kant: Beleived that one determines the value of a work of art through taste, an objective but non-systematic form of judgement. Taste is developed by appreciating classic works of art and by learning creative thinking skills so that one can see worth in unlikely things. Developed two kinds of beauty: beauty and sublimity. Beauty is harmonic. Sublimity results when one reaches a state of turmoil by realizing the greatness of a thing, such as God or themselves (example: contemplation of outerspace leads to a sense of insignificance, which then comes into sublime conflict with the knowledge that we are more important than all the infinite empty spaces).

Hegel: Believed that art was part of the development of human culture, which in turn is an expression of God. For Hegel, God exists in a sort of symbiotic relationship with creation, and history, both natural and human, is part of His process of self-realization. This is heresy. However, God, as Creator, is Creator of both human culture and the natural world; thus art can reveal him in a somewhat Hegelian sense. The form of a work of art is every bit as important as its meaning because the form is an existing being and the means by which we percieve the being.

Schopenhauer: Through art, we can gain a bit of freedom from our desires, desires that cause us pain and suffering.

Niechtzche: Art is part of culture, and culture is the framework that provides intelligibilty for human existence. For example, because of our culture, the thing we call a fork has a human meaning and a purpose that it does not have in, say, chopstick-only China. The meaning of the life a bantu lives is slightly different from the meaning of the life a Swede lives because the Bantu has a culture that encourages personal responsibility but the Swede does not. For the atheistic N, this principle extends even to matters of truth and falsehood. The greatest artists, he says, are religious leaders, who invent "false" but effective systems to cover the whole of life. All artists participate in this meaning-shaping to some extent, whether or not you believe everything N. says.

Dewey: Experience of art unites the formal to the representational, thus providing a holistic experience. Art should prevade all of life, from the home to the factory.

Heidigger: The artist is the person who evokes in people the realization that the fact that things exist is a wonderful mystery that needs to be appreciated by contemplation and action (btw: the way we appreciate it in action includes living a moral life and believing the True Religion). The chapter on Heidigger was very hard.

Monday, April 27, 2009

On the Definition of Music

A definition is the words that express the limits of the existence of a thing, whether the thing be a concept, a material reality, or a non-conceptual, non-material reality. To define a thing, one can either make one’s own limit (an “arbitrary definition”), or look at linguistic precedent, or find a thing that has a limit in its own nature and make the definition based on this nature.

There are two things that have no limits to their being and thus possess the ultimate state of liberalism in definition (whether you believe in them or not), God, Who is Infinite Existence, and Prime Matter, which has no existence. Music exists, and is not God, so it must have limits to its being.

Concerning music, scientists who study sound have invented a technical definition of music for their purposes, defining music as “Sound with a regular wave pattern,” thus excluding non-pitched phenomena from music. This is a useful definition, as it is possible to construct (whether or not with success is debatable) an objective, mathematical theory of music based on this definition. Although scientists had a perfect right to make such an arbitrary definition, such a definition leaves out percussion instruments (which goes against common usage of the term “music”) and the works of John Cage. Musicians seem to not have come to a consensus on this topic, however, and as the scientific definition does not work because it leaves out some instruments, defining music arbitrarily is not an option.

Defining music based on linguistic precedent is outside the scope of this paper and the abilities of the author.

As for defining music by its nature, it is obvious that it is an art of sound. One can appreciate natural unmodified (wild) sounds in much the same way that they appreciate music, but this does not make the sound art or music. In a similar way, one can appreciate unmodified (wild) plants, but this does not make the plants part of the arts of gardening or floral design. The same sounds, once modified and selected by humans, however, become art through this modification. Whether or not this is a final definition is open to debate, but the definition of music by nature includes the dual quality of art of sound. From here, an evaluation of Cage and Babbitt can be made.

Milton Babbitt’s works are known for being highly organized and inaccessible to the common listener. He defended the idea that some composers should compose music so advanced that only subsidies could continue its composition.

Whether or not Babbitt was right or wrong about music is debatable. The fact is, however, that his works are not actually music, for it can be rendered unmusical by even the elementary definition above, without considering its level of advancement or its connection with the listening public. Babbitt composed by inventing an organizational system and then applying it to the staff-notated musical tradition. Unfortunately for music, although such a work may be art, it is not sound. There is an art to inventing such fascinating number-games as Babbitt invented, but such systems are media-independent, able to be applied to music, painting, sculpture, chemistry, poetry, et cetera. There is no regard for the sound to which the system is applied, hence the sound is non-essential to the art. If the sound were better off for the organization, or the organization better off for the sound, then there would be an art of sound, and music would result, but this is not the case. Babbitt has art+sound, not art of sound.

By the above definition, some of John Cage’s ideas would be music, and some would not. The idea of letting “it [presumably the sound] act of its own accord” (p. 12) is quite unmusical, taking the sound, and leaving out the human element of art. Cage’s advocacy of non-traditional techniques and instruments, such as tapes (p. 11), however, can include both sound and art, and thus is possibly music.

Defining music as the art of sound is a concise, useful, and true nature-based definition.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Ideas, Anyone?

I am seriously considering writing a Shakespearean drama based on the plot of "The Three Little Pigs."

Any suggestions?

Saturday, April 25, 2009


The priestiess, Diotima,
Would have disliked Grima
Beauty draws us to God
Grima to Grave-sod.

Skinny Grima Wormtongue
Never hurted no one.
He just sat and said things
His words did the hurting!

John Cage
Puts us in rage
For composing sonatas
That are so-not-a's.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Hamlet...The man, not the tale.

Revenge. It's a common thread in lots of stories, from the Greek Tragedies, to The Count of Monte Cristo, to Wuthering Heights, to True Grit. And, for some reason or other, the revenge-seeker seems to be the one who attracts some of our sympathy, whether (s)he be Electra, Heathcliff, Maddie Ross, or Anakin.

And this does not exactly seem to be a good thing. We all know that revenge is an evil, a pleasure in which it is forbidden to indulge, but we just can't help ourselves. The authors aren't much of a help either, often portraying the avengers as victims of previous wrongs, to be pitied, not condemned. And if this is so, Hamlet, a classic revenge story, would seem to be missing some merit.

Both Because "Hamlet" is such a classic and Hamlet is such a lovable character (despite, indeed, because of, his ambivalent revenge-desires), we ought not just reject the story out of hand as a tale not conducive to morality. If Shakespeare was a moral man, he would have been intelligent enough to be aware both that art has consequences and how to get the good moral consequences across most effectively. If Shakespeare was not a good man, we will never know, will we?

Whatever Mr. S might have been, Hamlet gives many signs of being a good man. At least twice in the play, he affirms his belief in Divine Providence. He is intensely interested in the slavation of his mother. He resists temptations to suicide. He is humble enough to make himself a fool in front of the entire court. He is a pleasant friend, someone we would feel attracted to regardless of his moral state. Most importantly, he is devoted to the commands of his father's ghost.

In fact, the actions of the ghost make one wonder whether or not Hamlet's desire to kill his uncle is actually an act of revenge. The ghost makes it clear that he is not a dammed spirit; the sufferings he describes are the pains of purgatory, land of saints, not hell, a claim that Hamlet later tests to the limits of both his ability and the aesthetic limits of the play (An awkward turtle would fit very well. Tuea Huea!). A purgatorial spirit would be unable to command or even request anyone to commit a sin. God, being the arbiter of life and death, may have (I think this is possible) ordained that Hamlet's uncle would die by assassination, and, through His ordinance give His keys of death and hades to Hamlet temporarily. Regardless of what God did, Hamlet seems convinced of the rightness of his cause, thus removing all moral responsibility of the death from him.

After taking the responsibility upon himself, Hamlet, spurred on by obedience, seems to grow spiritually. He begins to articulate his sufferings, especially his growing rightful disdain of the world, making us think that his sufferings have become more acute but that he knows what they are for. His madness is more true than the sanities of many people. His pledge of obedience has lent purpose to his life.

When true revenge begins to creep in upon his obedience, however, his plans begin to go astray. His not killing his uncle while his uncle is repentant of his sins opens up the possibility of the tragedies that follow. His giving into passion kills the wrong person. Though afterwards, he seems to desire to be merely obedient, the damage has been done, and the two moments of revenge and blindness end up being the death of nearly all the characters in the play.

In short, Hamlet is not a character constructed so that we sympathize with the vengeful. Rather, he is constructed so that we sympathize with obedience and see the evil consequences of revenge.

4'33 as an Analog for Prime Matter

What would a thing with no properties but the potential to become anything be like? How about the music of John Cage, where the performer is given no instructions? The performer could do anything in that time, yet the piece considered by itself is...what?

By the way, this post is not labeled music because it is unclear whether or not it is about music.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Chastity as a Having, not a Lacking

Conceive I had a crystal, clear and clean
Hev'n-hard and bright and inn'cent like a child
Along a simple sidewalk, all unknowing
Soul-secret secrets of her or'gin wild.
Take I this treasure, fragile like a maid,
Into the deepest ice-caves of my cloak
To guard it from the dirt and from the trade.
Yen dirties pure things, and by these they're broke.
How then shall I percieve those nearest me
Who know not of the treasure that I claw.
Which of these two the greater secret be
That when they're told, the hearer shakes with awe:
The one before them drops, in mud, jewelry,
Or that the same conceals them secretly?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

For your Easter Week Meditiations...

You MUST listen to "Mass" by Leonard Bernstien!

Explanation of the Previous Post

8 purposes of art.

> 1. Moralization (Plato)
Art can be used to encourage good behaviour by being about good behaviour. Move along. Nothing to see here that you didn't know before.

> 2. Indoctrination (Plato)
Art can be used to encourage good behaviour when the artist, in imitating something good, internalizes its goodness. For example, the dancer internalizes gracefulness when they dance.

> 2. Preparation for mathematics (Plato)
Mathematics is the form of abstract thought that humans first expose themselves to. Through mathematics, we can free ourselves from the limitation of thinking in images and begin to think about real things in terms of something that is itself real. Art prepares us for mathematics by guiding our imagination in the perception and liking of proportions (ratios).

> 3. Moving into the transcendent world by imitation/discovery (Plato/Aquinas)
Everything material is divided into two parts: the form of the thing, which is what it is, and its matter, which is what it is made of. Omnisciently, God knows the form of every thing that exists, and because His knowledge is not different from Himself, by knowing about the forms of things, we learn about Him. The artist, by imitating a pre-existing form or discovering a new one, learns about the form he works with, as do the observers of his art.
To the extent which a thing has a form, it is more perfect and more coherent. Hence, the more coherent a work of art is, the better it is.

> 4. Moving into the transcendent world by moving from referential to abstract (Plato)
Some forms of art are based on the expression of ideas other than themselves through words and images. In other arts, however, the idea being expressed is the work itself, leaving the observer quite imageless. Hence, art can perform funciton #2 not only by introducing us to mathematics, but by itself containing the qualities which the study of mathematics is supposed to impart.

> 5. Training our desire for the Infinite, God. (Plato)
We all have either a latent or an active desire for the Infinite. According to Diotima, this expresses itself at the lowest level through physical satisfaction, especially the conception of children (children make the parent "immortal"). The lifestyle that desires the Infinite and expresses it in a lifeful and extravagant manner is called "Dionisian." Art can perform the function of calming the passions so that one can achieve a rational and ethical lifestyle where desire is calmed, calld "Apollonian".
Once one acheves this lifestyle, however, art (and thought as well) can awaken the person to the fact that the object of the Infinity-desire is not physical satisfaction, but a sort of spiritual satisfaction that is itself more than rational, and thus again Dionisian. Art does this by awakening the desire for spiritual goods; for example, a work of good art might inspire a rational (or even an irrational) person to, out of desire for God, to take the very Dionisian step of becoming a Franciscan.

> 6. Being part of a culture (Aristotle)
Move along. You know how this works already I think.

> 7. Learning about a form. (Aristotle)
Same as #3, except that the object of the knowledge sought is the form, not God.

> 8. Being yet another of the creative Self-Revelations of God. (Bonaventure)
In the final analysis, God is unknowable to us on earth. Yet every one of His creations reveals something about Him in some way. Every work of good art does so as well.

Monday, April 13, 2009

8 purposes of far.

> 1. Moralization (Plato)
> 2. Indoctrination (Plato)
> 2. Preparation for mathematics (Plato)
> 3. Moving into the transcendent world by imitation/discovery (Plato/Aquinas)
> 4. Moving into the transcendent world by moving from referential to abstract (Plato)
> 5. Training our desire for the Infinite, God. (Plato)
> 6. Being part of a culture (Aristotle)
> 7. Learning about a form. (Aristotle)
> 8. Being yet another of the creative Self-Revelations of God. (Bonaventure)

If you want explanations, just ask. I got these 8 purposes from the book "placing Aesthetics" by Robert H Wood of The University of Dallas.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

"Tonality" revisited, Part II

> > A short interlude on the definition of the word "Tonality"
> >
> > In the previous article concerning this, Tonality was used improperly. Properly, it means a system of organizing music according to specific rules of consonance, dissonance, and chord progression. That this system is superior to others is unprovable.
> > The improper way I used it, it meant the ordering of pitches according to a specific method that is much broader than and includes tonality, yet does not include all pitched music, such as some, but not all, serial and set-class pieces.
> >
> > On the mathematics
> >
> > Two vibrations at the unison have a ratio of 1:1
> > Two vibrations at the octave have a ratio of 1:2
> > Two vibrations at the octave+perfect fifth have a ratio of 1:3
> > Two vibrations at the perfect fifth have a ratio of 2:3
> >
> > Assuming that two notes an octave apart are equivalent notes, which seems a self-evident assumption, though it might not be, the next notes in the series are
> >
> > Two vibrations at the major second have a ratio of 8:9
> > Two vibrations at the major sixth have a ratio of 16:27
> > Two vibrations at the major third have a ratio of 64:81
> > Two vibrations at the major seventh have a ratio of 128:243
> > Two vibrations at the tritone have a ratio figure it out.
> >
> > Invert using octave equivalence, and you now have all the possible relationships between notes in the order of simplest ratio to most complex ratio. According to me and many other theorists who I follow, the music ought to incorporate these into its composition as per above. The closer the relathionship
> >
> > On the answering of objections
> >
> > Obj. Saying that if two objects have one mathematical ratio as the relationship between them and two other objects have a different one, then one set is more closely related than the other is arbitrary or determined by biological or cultural factors, for mathematics does not decree one relationship as better than another.
> > Ans. It is true that many things are related merely arbitrarily, culturally, or because of biology, but non-arbitrary relationships can exist. For example, the relationship between me and my parents is necessarily a closer relationship than the relationship between me and my cousins, because if I would have had different parents, I would be a different person, but if I had a different cousin, I would remain the same person; thus the relationship of parent is essential, while the relationship of cousin is not.
> > Into what category do ratios fall? It seems that it is self evident, independent of biology or culture, that the closer the relationship approaches 1 (or the closer the notes approach to a unison), the closer (and thus, more relational) the relationship between them; a yardstick is more closely related to a meterstick than it is to a 2.5-meterstick because it is more close to it in length.
> > The other sort of self-evident, culturally and biologically independent relationship is a bit more complicated. Consider the intervals of perfect fifth and major sixth, with the ratios of 2/3 and 16/27 respectively. In regards to choosing between them, the composer can say "I choose ____" or "I choose ____ because of ____" If they are trying to be completely objective and independent from biology and culture and they choose to have the second option, what is left to them is to choose on the basis of the ratios. And which makes more sense: to say "I choose the fifth because it has the relationship of the ratio of 2/3, not 16/27," or "I choose the sixth because it has the relationship of the ratio of 16/27, not 2/3?" The second statement is hilarious and ludicrous and unbelieveable and seems to be self-evidently less valid than the first. One could, of course, simply say "I choose ____" or even "I aleotorate ___," but then, they are choosing, and, considered in the abstract, their choice has no basis. It would be better to choose with an abstract basis in the way outlined above.