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.