Saturday, October 03, 2015

The Sceptre and Chrism of Kings

The Chrism of Kings
by Thomas O'Hagan

In the morn of the world, at the daybreak of time,
When Kingdoms were few and Empires unknown
God searched for a Ruler to sceptre the land,
And gather the harvest from the seed He had sown.
He found a young shepherd-boy watching his flock
Where the mountains looked down on deep meadows of green;
He hailed the young shepherd-boy king of the land
And anointed his brow with a Chrism unseen.

He placed in his frail hands the sceptre of power,
And taught his young heart all the wisdom of love;
He gave him the vision of prophet and priest,
And dowered him with counsel and light from above.
But alas! came a day when the shepherd forgot
And heaped on his realm all the woes that war brings,
And bartering his purple for the greed of his heart
He lost both the sceptre and Chrism of Kings.

Posting is likely to be light this next week due to grading.

Friday, October 02, 2015

In Dreams Too Deep to Tell

Be Quiet, Wind
by Charles G. D. Roberts

Be quiet, wind, a little while,
And let me hear my heart.
You chiming rivulet still your chant
And stealthily depart.

You whisperings in the aspen leaves,
You far-heard whip-poor-will,
You slow drop spilling from the rose—
You, even you, be still.

I must have infinite silence now,
Lest I should miss one word
Of all my heart would say to me—
Now, when its deeps are stirred.

Hardly I dare my breath to draw
Lest breathing break the spell,—
While we commune, my heart and I,
In dreams too deep to tell.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Cette rose effeuillée est la fidèle image

La rose effeuillée
par Thérèse de l'Enfant-Jésus

Air : Le fil de la Vierge ou La Rose mousse.

Jésus, quand je te vois soutenu par ta Mère,
Quitter ses bras,
Essayer en tremblant sur notre triste terre
Tes premiers pas;
Devant toi je voudrais effeuiller une rose
En sa fraîcheur,
Pour que ton petit pied bien doucement repose
Sur une fleur.

Cette rose effeuillée est la fidèle image,
Divin Enfant!
Du coeur qui. veut pour toi s'immoler sans partage
A chaque instant.
Seigneur, sur tes autels plus d'une fraîche rose
Aime à briller;
Elle se donne à toi, mais je rêve autre chose
C'est m'effeuiller...

La rose en son éclat peut embellir ta fête,
Aimable Enfant!
Mais la rose effeuillée, on l'oublie, on la jette
Au gré du vent...
La rose, en s'effeuillant, sans recherche se donne
Pour n'être plus.
Comme elle, avec bonheur, à toi je m'abandonne,
Petit Jésus !

L'on marche sans regret sur des feuilles de rose,
Et ces débris
Sont un simple ornement que sans art on dispose,
Je l'ai compris...
Jésus, pour ton amour j'ai prodigué ma vie,
Mon avenir;
Aux regards des mortels, rose à jamais flétrie,
Je dois mourir !

Pour toi je dois mourir, Jésus, beauté suprême,
Oh ! quel bonheur!
Je veux en m'effeuillant te prouver que je t'aime
De tout mon coeur.
Sous tes pas enfantins je veux avec mystère
Vivre ici-bas ;
Et je voudrais encore adoucir au Calvaire
Tes derniers pas...

Still thinking through how this might be best translated; the title is "The Depetaled Rose". In any case, today (Thursday) is the feast of St. Therese of Lisieux, Doctor of the Church.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Music on My Mind

Dion DiMucci, "The Thunderer". Today was the feast of St. Jerome, Doctor of the Church, so a song about the saint seems appropriate. The lyrics are from a poem by Phyllis McGinley.

Zhong Yong (Part I)

There has been considerable discussion over the centuries about the exact meaning of the title of the fourth of the Confucian Four Books, the Zhong Yong. The phrase derives from the Analects (VI.29), which is quoted in the book. Zhong means something like 'undeviating, neither to one side nor the other, neither too much nor too little', and is the foundation for the most common English title (due to Burton Watson), The Doctrine of the Mean; Gardner suggests 'maintaining perfect balance'. Early commentators, at least according to Legge, tend to understand yong to mean 'employment' or 'use', but later commentators tend to interpret it as meaning 'ordinary, constant'. Latin translators have tended to translate the whole title as De medio sempiterno; Legge suggests it would be less misleadingly called The States of Equilibrium and Harmony, taking zhong and yong as coordinate terms.

The Doctrine of the Mean, like The Great Learning, was originally a chapter in the Book of Rites, although as a later addition it seems to have had a long history of commentary treating it as a standalone work. When read as one of the Four Books, it is usually taken with Zhu Xi's comments and chapter divisions. Zhu Xi argued that the book had a Confucian provenance, being written by Zisi, who was Confucius's grandson; this gives the Four Books a nice symmetry, since it lets one say that we have here a series of four teachers; Confucius (Analects) hands down teaching to Zengzi (Great Learning) who hands down teaching to Zisi (Doctrine of the Mean) who hands down teaching to Mengzi(Mencius). Zhu Xi's arguments for attributing the work to Zisi have never been universally accepted, although they did become the standard view.

The Doctrine of the Mean can be read online in James Legge's translation at the Chinese Text Project. I am beholden also to the excerpts and commentary of Daniel K. Gardner's The Four Books and to James Legge's notes on the work.

Chapter I

The Neo-Confucian reading of the work, deriving from the Cheng brothers and becoming popular due to Zhu Xi, was to see it as having an egress-regress structure: it begins with a single principle, takes in the universe, and then returns it all to the principle again. The first chapter begins with essential ideas. Nature is what Heaven establishes, following nature is the Way, cultivating the Way is education. Following the Way requires not deviating, which requires close vigilance over one's own life. Human beings move from a tranquility prior to the passions to a unity of the passions, each with its proper proportion; these are Legge's 'equilibrium' and 'harmony'.

Chapters II-XI

According to Zhu Xi, the next ten chapters illustrate with quotation the principles outlined in the first chapter. (Chapter II, incidentally, is odd in that it refers to Confucius in a nonstandard way, for no known reason.) The noble take into account circumstances in order to be constant (2), and this is the highest achievement, one few are able to reach in these days (3). Why are few able to reach it? Because those with talent think it beneath them, too simple to study, and those without talent think it above them, too hard to practice (4). The example of Shun shows the good that can come of giving it its proper attention (6). He did it by taking advice, drawing out the good from it, and applying it without deviation. This is precisely what the mean is, and precisely what made Shun the hero he was. No matter how much people might insist that they know how to live their lives, the results show otherwise: they may choose to hold to the Way, but they swiftly begin to deviate (7). They are not like Yan Hui, who made the choice and seized it firmly (8). People can do apparently difficult things with hard work and patience, but seem to have difficulty with this very fundamental thing (9).

The strength that sets others in order comes in more than one type (10). It can involve patience and reasonableness in conduct, and the power to endure hardship, even death. These are the traits of the noble in their pursuit of good and their resistance of bad. When we look for who is able to do these things and keep to the mean, we find that people often fall short or overshoot; in order to find a model, we need to look to the sage (11).

to be continued

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Adepts of Sensible Understanding

Thomas Aquinas, ST 2-2.49.3 co. (my translation):

As said above, prudence is concerned with particular practicables. As such things are almost infinitely diverse, no one man can adequately consider them all, nor in a short time rather than through a long period of time. Thus in things relevant to prudence, man especially needs to be taught by others, and particularly by elders, who have achieved sensible understanding of practicable ends [qui sanum intellectum adepti sunt circa fines operabilium]. Thus the Philosopher says, in VI Ethic., "It is fitting to attend no less to the indemonstrable claims and opinions of experienced people who are older and prudent, than to their demonstrations, for by experience they see principles." Thus also it is said in Prov. III, "Do not lean on your own prudence"; and it is said in Eccli. VI, "Stand in the multitude of presbyters, that is, elders, that are prudent, and join yourself from the heart to their wisdom." And this pertains to teachableness [docilitas], to be very receptive to learning. And so teachableness is appropriately posited as a part of prudence.

You can read the Dominican Fathers translation here.

Two New Poem Drafts

Launch of Apollo 11

Great is the fire, a little sun,
to cast a ship to the realm of suns,
a sailless ship to ride the star-seas,
to travel far from home and port,
to seek the silver-lighted splendor
and do the feat of great renown.


In silent fields I walked alone,
the zephyr-breezes running by.
The sound of feet on earth and stone
was doomful; I did not know why.
The sun on high was sanguine red,
dark brown were rows of corn below;
they rattled like dry bones long dead,
they withered in the bloody glow.
The sand was in the air, and, deep,
the clouds with billows dusted all.
Yea, as you sow, so shall you reap;
poorly built is swift to fall.

The moon arose dark orange and ill
as though it had been dipped in blood;
its silvern light with plague was filled
and poured on all, a dirty flood.
No wolves were there, but wolfish howl
yet roared through cold and bitter wind
as dark yet rainless clouds did growl.
With muttered thunders day did end.
The heavens moaned in death-like sleep,
on haggard lands the shroud and pall.
Yea, as you sow, so shall you reap;
poorly built is swift to fall.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Jottings on the Two Methods of Teaching Philosophy

Increasingly I have come to think that in the classroom there are two and only two genuine ways of teaching philosophy, that is, ways of teaching philosophy that are actually appropriate to philosophy itself. (There are other ways to teach philosophy in other contexts, and definitely other ways to do philosophy; but our contemporary expectations about classroom education considerably constrain what can be done.) One can be called the Natural Method, after the approach to language education of the same name. If you take a language course taught according to the Natural Method, you are plunged into the language immediately: you begin with a lot of basic interaction in the language you are learning and you build on that. There is certainly something equivalent to that in philosophy; you can find the classic examples of how to do it in Plato's dialogues.* The other method is the Historical Method, and it is precisely what it says on the tin: you learn schools, thinkers, and their interactions through time, and all that goes with them. All other approaches, when examined closely, turn out to be home-brew hybridizations of these. (And, indeed, I think common classroom expectations make it very difficult to stick only to one -- in practice it's most common to structure the course by Historical Method and fill in parts of that structure with the Natural Method. The danger here, of course, is that they can be meshed in ways that fail to do justice to either.)

There is a common distinction made by academic philosophers between 'doing philosophy' and 'studying philosophy'. In reality, nothing seems to justify such a distinction. If you are studying, say, Plato, this requires 'doing philosophy' -- you won't even understand Plato if you don't 'do philosophy' in reading him. This, indeed, is a very Platonic idea itself: Learning about philosophy requires learning how to philosophize. And, of course, for students (and teachers, who are, after all, just students farther along), 'doing philosophy' is not possible without 'studying philosophy'. Both the Natural Method and the Historical Method are ways of both 'doing philosophy' and 'studying philosophy'. It is always important to insist on this; people with less taste for the latter have a bad habit of treating the Historical Method as somehow a defective way of teaching philosophy, as if it were 'studying' without the 'doing'. This is a problematic assumption. Likewise, the Natural Method does not somehow get behind and around 'studying philosophy' to 'doing philosophy'; it requires 'studying philosophy' as much as the other, and the only question is how widely one's study will go.

* This is not the same as a focus on problems. The common distinction between 'problems' approaches and 'historical' approaches is a distinction between historical approaches, with one based on themes and one based on interactions. It's somewhat unfortunate that this distinction tends to be formulated the way it does, since it leads 'problems' people to think they are not doing historical work, thus increasing the amount of bad historical work that is done. Philosophical problems are things with a history, and the history is not incidental to what they are and how they are formulated. The only question is how much you are assuming without evidence.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Fortnightly Book, September 27

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn knew the Gulag well, having spent eight years in a labor camp for making sardonically critical comments about Joseph Stalin in letters to his friends. After his experience there, he was sent in exile (for life) to Kazakhstan, where he had a narrow brush with death by cancer. With the rise of Krushchev after Stalin's death, he was freed from exile, and it was at this period he began writing one of his landmark works: One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. The work was submitted to a literary magazine, which in turn submitted it to the Communist Party Central Committee for permission to publish it; there was a fair amount of controversy over whether to give this permission, but Krushchev himself pushed it through as part of his campaign against Stalinism. It was published in 1962. It would become one of the major factors in Solzhenitsyn's reception of the Nobel Prize in 1970. But at the time it also made Solzhenitsyn a persona non grata with many people of power and influence, and with the fall of Kruschev in 1964, it seemed his career was just about over -- but Solzhenitsyn, of course, did not stop writing.

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is a short work, but as I have quite a bit of grading coming up in the next two weeks, it should fit quite well. I have the Ralph Parker translation put out by Signet; although there are no doubt better translations -- like that of H. T. Willetts -- this was the first English translation, and thus is the most common English version.

Diana Wynne Jones, Dark Lord of Derkholm; and Year of the Griffin


Opening Passages: From Dark Lord of Derkholm:

"Will you all be quiet!" snapped High Chancellor Querida. She pouched up her yes and glared around the table.

"I was only trying to say--" a king, an emperor, and several wizards began.

"At once," said Querida, "or the next person to speak spends the rest of his life as a snake!"

From Year of the Griffin:

Nothing was going right with the Wizards' University. When High Chancellor Querida decided that she could not change the world and run the University as well, she took herself and her three cats off to a cottage beside the Waste, leaving the older wizards in charge. The older wizards seized the opportunity to retire. Now, eight years after the tours ended, the University was run by a committee of rather younger wizards, and it was steadily losing money.

Summary: In 1996, Diana Wynne Jones published The Tough Guide to Fantasyland; she had had fantasy fiction tropes on her mind because she had been one of a large number of authors contributing suggestions to The Encyclopedia of Fantasy. A parody tourist guidebook, it was a send-up, sometimes affectionate and occasionally acidic, of generic fantasy tropes -- Dark Lords, impossible economies and dubious social structures, generic, derivative monsters, and the like. Dark Lord of Derkholm is usually seen as a sort of sequel to The Tough Guide, but it goes well beyond it, since it is a parody of a genre that also manages to be an excellent example of the genre in its own right.

The conceit of Dark Lord is that a fairly generic world of magic is at the mercy of a man, Roland Chesney, from another world (one like ours, but apparently somewhat more advanced). He has found a way to control a powerful demon, and on that foundation he has managed to put together a thriving and ruthless business: Mr. Chesney's Pilgrim Tours, in which people in the other world who like fantasy can pay large sums of money to go over and experience it first-hand. As with any tour business, it is based on appearances, and so to guarantee that customers get the fantasy world they are expecting, the entire world is forced by Mr. Chesney to conform to generic fantasy tropes -- the Tours are organized as Quests to defeat a Dark Lord and must have extensive battles, wizards who look like wizards, and so forth. If they fail to conform, they get fined or worse, and since Mr. Chesney is backed by a demon, there is little that can be done to stop it. Nor are the Tours the only source of profit for Mr. Chesney. He receives large amounts of money for arranged assassinations, is receiving tributes of gold from dragons and dwarves, and, as it turns out, is also systematically stripping the world's magic to use as fuel in his own world. The amount of pain and suffering going into Mr. Chesney's profits is extraordinary.

The people of the world are fed up with it, so Querida, the most powerful wizard in the world, hatches a plan for a revolt. One element of the plan is to follow the advice of the Black Oracle and the White Oracle to appoint Derk the official Dark Lord for the next set of Tours and his human son Blade the last tour guide. I say 'human son' because Derk is a biological wizard of sorts and has, in addition to having one human son and one human daughter, also made intelligent griffins who are for practical purposes his children as well. The whole family has to pull together to make it through the ever-increasing disaster of the Tours, in the course of which more of Mr. Chesney's operations and the means by which he maintains his power come to light, leading to a final showdown: Mr. Chesney has demanded as the novelty surprise for this set of Tours that the people make their gods manifest to the pilgrim parties, but the gods have other plans.

The novel extensively satirizes generic fantasy tropes, and in a much less heavy-handed way than The Tough Guide, and is fun all the way through (although I always find the griffins more interesting than the humans). But it has a serious element, as well, one handled quite nicely, culminating in the god Anscher's rebuke of the people of the world for taking the easy way out. For over forty years, their land was devastated by the Tours, thousands killed in completely pointless battles, their cultures and civilizations thrown out of joint, their people regularly on the verge of famine, their entire lives subject to a tyrant who cared not a whit for them and used them only for his own profit -- and still, with all that, they found it easier than humbly asking the gods for help or taking responsibility for themselves. The absurdity of it is blatant, and yet it is perhaps all too plausible.

Year of the Griffin picks up the tale eight years later, tying up loose ends as the people of the world try to get their lives into an order that makes sense. Elda, the youngest of Derk's griffin children, has grown up and is off at University -- and finding it a decidedly mixed experience. For forty years the University was basically just a way to turn out wizard tour guides for Mr. Chesney's Tours, and the result has been disastrous. The University, no longer funded by the Tours, is in need of money; it is guided by an arbitrary standard of 'practical usefulness' in how it handles students while at the same time its teachers repeatedly show that they are themselves impractical and useless; and new thought is squelched with pretentious self-importance. Like its predecessor, the work is a satire, but its satirical edge is directed at academia, and despite caricature and a need to tie up other story lines, occasionally strikes very close to home.

Favorite Passages: From Dark Lord of Derkholm:

"The gods have been forced to wait, too," Anscher continued, "until people of this world asked to be able to rule their own affairs. The gods need to be asked. And for forty years the people of this world found it easier to do what Roland Chesney told them than to ask for this world for themselves....." (p. 512)

From Year of the Griffin:

Fun? Corkoran thought. What nonsense was this? Magic at University level was work. You were not supposed to have fun with it. Yet here was Lukin, expressing himself rather well in his tiny black writing, suggesting that magic was there to enjoy. Well, he was a prince, Corkoran thought, and had obviously been brought up to think that magic was what you relaxed with after a day's ruling. Corkoran decided to allow for that, and awarded Lukin a C, instead of the C minus he had first intended. (p. 147)

Recommendation: Dark Lord of Derkholm is definitely Recommended, and Year of the Griffin makes a nice follow-up for those who become interested in the characters of the first novel.