Thursday, January 30, 2014

#Occupy, circa 1879

Maksymilian Gierymski, Kamienne Schodki
The Lalka Book Reading Cabal of Readers Reading Lalka is rolling forward, and it's rolling rather well. The 7,207,712,110 people on the planet who aren't participating are each the biggest sucker who ever lived.

In last week's block there was a chapter in which the elderly clerk Ignacy Rzecki is sent by his boss Wokulski to have a look at a house he recently bought. One of the tenants he meets during the visit is a young student with a volatile temperament and a worldview that oscillates somewhere between socialism and nihilism. I was just tickled that the character (or stereotype) of the twentysomething urban college student from a book written 120 years ago should be so immediately familiar, but the ever-perspicacious Mastah P. hit the nail squarely on head, remarking that the student is the spitting image of the Occupy/millennial strawman conservatives in the United States rail against with such vitriol.

And so I'd like to share the scene with y'all. This would be the third excerpt from Lalka that has appeared on this blog; the conversation between Wokulski and the doctor and Wokuski's Paris experience would be the first and second. Anyway, enjoy!

We left the apartment and stopped at a door on the staircase. The agent knocked cautiously while the blood ran from my head to my heart, and from my heart down into my boots. It might even have leaked out of my boots and away down the stairs to the gate, had not someone inside replied: "Come in . . ."

We entered. Three beds. A young man with a black beard in student's garb was lying on one, with a book in his hand and his feet on the bed-rail. The clothes on the other beds looked as if a hurricane had swept through the room and turned everything upside down. I also saw a trunk, an empty valise, and many books on shelves, on the trunk and on the floor also. Finally there were a few bent chairs and ordinary unpolished tables where, on looking more closely, I observed a painted chess-board and overturned chess-men.

Then I felt quite faint: for, next to the chess-men I saw two human skulls: in one was tobacco, and the other held sugar.

"What's this?" asked the bearded young man without getting up.

"This is Mr Rzecki, the landlord's plenipotentiary," said the agent, indicating me.

The young man got up on one elbow, eyed me sharply and said: "The landlord's . . .? At this moment I am landlord here, and do not recollect appointing this gentleman . . ."

This reply was so strikingly simple that Wirski and I were dumbfounded. Meanwhile, the young man rose lazily from the bed and began buttoning up his trousers and waistcoat without the slightest haste. Despite the systematic manner with which he followed this occupation, I am certain that at least half the buttons on his garments remained unbuttoned.

"Aaaah!" he yawned. "Pray sit down, gentlemen," he said, gesticulating in such a manner that I did not know whether he was asking us to be seated on the valise or on the floor. "Warm, Mr Wirski," he added, "ain't it? Aaaah!"

"As a matter of fact, your neighbour opposite has been complaining about you young gentlemen," the agent replied with a smile.

"What the deuce?"

"That you wander naked about the room . . ."

The young man at once flew into a temper: "Has the old fool gone off his head? Does he expect us to wear fur coats in a heatwave like this? The impudence of the man, upon my word . . ."

"Well, please don't forget he has a grown-up daughter . . ."

"What's that to me? I'm not her father. The old booby! Upon my word, he's lying, we don't go about naked."

"I've seen you with my own eyes," the agent interrupted.

"That's a lie, upon my word," the young man exclaimed, flushing with anger, "it's true that Maleski goes about without his shirt on, and Patkiewicz goes about without underpants, but in a shirt. So Miss Leokadia sees an entire costume . . ."

"Yes, and she also has to draw all the curtains," the agent replied.

"It's the old man who draws them, not her," the student replied with a gesture, "she peeps through the chinks in the curtains. Anyway, my dear sir, if Miss Leokadia is allowed to vex the whole yard, then surely Maleski and Patkiewicz have the right to walk about as they choose in their own room?"

As he spoke, the young man strode up and down. Whenever his back was turned, the agent winked at me and made grimaces denoting great desperation. After a pause, he said: "You gentlemen owe us four months' rent."

"Oh, you're back to that again!" the young man cried, putting his hands in his pockets, "how often must I tell you not to talk to me of this nonsense, but to Patkiewicz or Maleski? After all, it's easy enough to remember — Maleski pays for even months, February, April, June — while Patkiewicz pays for the odd, March, May, July . . ."

"But none of you ever pays!" the agent exclaimed impatiently.

"Whose fault is it if you don't come at the proper time?" the young man roared, clapping his hands together, "you've been told a hundred times to come to Maleski in even months, to Patekiewicz in odd . . ."

"What about you?"

"Me? Not at all," the young man exclaimed, threatening us, "I don't pay rent on principle. Whom am I to pay? And what for? Ha ha! Serve you right."

He began walking more rapidly about the room, laughing and scowling by turns. Finally he began whistling and looking out of the window, impudently turning his back to us . . . I lost my temper: "Allow me to remark," I exclaimed, "that this disregard of an agreement is more than somewhat strange . . . A person supplies you with a dwelling, but you see fit not to pay for it."

"Who gives me a dwelling?" cried the young man, sitting on the window sill and swinging himself about as if he intended throwing himself down from the third floor. "I took this apartment and will stay here till they throw me out. Agreement, indeed! They make me laugh with their talk of agreements . . . If society wants me to pay for a place to live, society should pay me enough for the lessons I give to suffice for rent. It's laughable! For three hours teaching a day I get fifteen roubles a month; they take away nine for food, three for laundry and services — and what about my clothes, and fees! Yet they still want me to pay rent . . . Throw me out into the street," he said angrily, "let the dog-catcher shoot me . . . You have a right to that, but not to make comments and complain . . ."

"I fail to understand your excitement," said I, calmly.

"I have good reason to be excited," the young man replied, swinging more and more in the direction of the yard, "as society didn't kill me at birth, as it wants me to study and pass dozens of exams, it has put itself under an obligation to give me work that will ensure my survival . . . Yet it either refuses me work, or cheats me out of payment for it . . . And if society does not keep its agreement with me, why should it expect me to keep mine to it? But what's the use of talking, I don't pay rent as a matter of principle, and basta! The more so because the present owner of the house didn't build it: he didn't bake the bricks, nor make the lime, lay the walls, risk breaking his neck. He came with money, possibly stolen, and paid someone else, who had perhaps robbed another person, and on that principle he wants to make me his slave. Such reasoning makes me laugh!"

"Mr Wokulski didn't rob anyone," I said, rising, "he made his fortune by hard work and saving."

"Be quiet," the young man interrupted, "my father was a competent doctor, he worked night and day and made what you might call good pay, and he saved . . . three hundred roubles a year! As your house cost ninety thousand roubles, my father would have to live and write prescriptions for three hundred years. I don't believe the new landlord worked for three hundred years . . ."

My head began spinning with these arguments: but the young man went on, "You can turn us out, of course. Then you'll see what you've lost. All the laundry-girls, all the cooks in the house will lose their tempers, and Madame Krzeszowska will begin to torment her neighbours unchallenged, to count each visitor who calls and every spoonful of flour they use . . . By all means, throw us out! Then Miss Leokadia will start singing her scales and vocalises in a soprano voice mornings and contralto in the evenings . . . And the devil will take this house when we're the only ones to keep it in order."

We made to leave: "So you definitely will not pay the rent?" I asked.

"Certainly not!"

"Perhaps you would at least start paying from next October?"

"No, sir. I have not much longer to live, so I hope to introduce at least one principle — if society wants individuals to respect agreements, then let society carry out its agreements with individuals. If I have to pay rent to anyone, then let others pay me as much for lessons to suffice for that rent. D'you understand me, sir?"

"Not entirely, sir," I replied.

"That is not surprising," said the young man, "in old age the brain withers away and is incapable of accepting new ideas."

We bowed to one another, and the agent and I went out. The young man shut the door behind us, but after a moment he ran out to the stairs and shouted: "And tell the agent to bring two policemen with him, for they will have to eject me by force!"

When the unusual young man had finally gone back to his apartment and locked the door on us in a manner which made it plain he regarded his conference with us as over, I stopped halfway down the stairs and said to the agent: "I see you have coloured windowpanes, here?"

"Oh, certainly . . ."

Sunday, January 26, 2014

History: Christopher Columbus Launched by a Theological Error

The "Columbus map," from The History of Visual Journalism.

Still cruisin' through White's History of the Warfare of Science with Theology. In a section within the chapter on geography, White briefly relates an interesting and fairly obscure episode in the story of Christopher Columbus. It appears that if it weren't for a bogus measurement of the Earth derived from Christian scripture, Columbus probably wouldn't have embarked across the Atlantic in 1492. Take a look!  (The chapter's footnotes are included at the end because I admire people who do their homework.)

But at an early period another subject in geography had stirred the minds of thinking men——the earth's size. Various ancient investigators had by different methods reached measurements more or less near the truth; these methods were continued into the Middle Ages, supplemented by new thought, and among the more striking results were those obtained by Roger Bacon and Gerbert, afterward Pope Sylvester II. They handed down to after-time the torch of knowledge, but, as their reward among their contemporaries, they fell under the charge of sorcery.

Far more consonant with the theological spirit of the Middle Ages was a solution of the problem from Scripture, and this solution deserves to be given as an example of a very curious theological error, chancing to result in the establishment of a great truth. The second book of Esdras, which among Protestants is placed in the Apocrypha, was held by many of the foremost men of the ancient Church as fully inspired: though Jerome looked with suspicion on this book, it was regarded as prophetic by Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, and Ambrose, and the Church acquiesced in that view. In the Eastern Church it held an especially high place, and in the Western Church, before the Reformation, was generally considered by the most eminent authorities to be part of the sacred canon. In the sixth chapter of this book there is a summary of the works of creation, and in it occur the following verses:

"Upon the third day thou didst command that the waters should be gathered in the seventh part of the earth; six parts hast thou dried up and kept them to the intent that of these some, being planted of God and tilled, might serve thee."

"Upon the fifth day thou saidst unto the seventh part where the waters were gathered, that it should bring forth living creatures, fowls and fishes, and so it came to pass."

These statements were reiterated in other verses, and were naturally considered as of controlling authority.

Among the scholars who pondered on this as on all things likely to increase knowledge was Cardinal Pierre d'Ailly. As we have seen, this great man, while he denied the existence of the antipodes, as St. Augustine had done, believed firmly in the sphericity of the earth, and, interpreting these statements of the book of Esdras in connection with this belief, he held that, as only one seventh of the earth's surface was covered by water, the ocean between the west coast of Europe and the east coast of Asia could not be very wide. Knowing, as he thought, the extent of the land upon the globe, he felt that in view of this divinely authorized statement the globe must be much smaller, and the land of  "Zipango," reached by Marco Polo, on the extreme east coast of Asia, much nearer than had been generally believed.

On this point he laid stress in his great work, the Ymago Mundi, and an edition of it having been published in the days when Columbus was thinking most closely upon the problem of a westward voyage, it naturally exercised much influence upon his reasonings. Among the treasures of the library at Seville, there is nothing more interesting than a copy of this work annotated by Columbus himself: from this very copy it was that Columbus obtained confirmation of his belief that the passage across the ocean to Marco Polo's land of Zipango in Asia was short. But for this error, based upon a text supposed to be inspired, it is unlikely that Columbus could have secured the necessary support for his voyage. It is a curious fact that this single theological error thus promoted a series of voyages which completely destroyed not only this but every other conception of geography based upon the sacred writings.*

*For this error, so fruitful in discovery, see D'Ailly, Ymago Mundi; the passage referred to is fol. 12 verso. For the passage from Esdras, see chapt. vi, verse 42, 47, 50, and 52; see also Zöckler, Geschichte der Beziehungen zwischen Theologie und Naturwissenschaft, vol. i, p. 461. For one of the best recent statements, see Ruge, Gesch. des Zeitalters der Entdeckungen, Berlin, 1882, pp. 221 et seq. For a letter of Columbus acknowledging his indebtedness to this mistake in Esdras, see Navarrete, Viajes y Descubrimientos, Madrid, 1825, tome 1, pp. 242, 264; also Humboldt, Hist. de la Géographie du Nouveau Continent, vol. i, pp. 68, 69.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Ice dreams. The snarl. Straight lines.

(Image: not mine)

Some days ago I was out in the woods, standing at the creek bank by the incongruous fir. The limpid half-moon winked up at me from the sheet of ice at my feet.

It seemed that if such a thing should be so unexpected and amazing to me, I am not outside nearly as much as I need to be.

*          *          *

On the tail end of the polar vortex I visited the pond. The surface was frozen quite solidly for several inches down, permitting me to walk from one bank right to the other.

Standing on the creek that feeds the pond from the west, I looked down and observed the perturbations of the leaves on the creekbed as the water flowed on beneath the ice. I couldn't say why it struck me as such a remarkable sight.

(Image: mine)

Still viable in spite of the freeze. Where there is potential, there is everything that needs to be. For what else but possibility do we go on living?

*          *          *

I visited Jason at Earthdance last week. Although rural Massachusetts this time of year is as cold, still, and barren as everywhere else outside of paradise this time of the year, Earthdance is a place that is never quite bleak, even in the darkest and most dysphoric of seasons. Speaking generally (or stereotyping, if you will), a small and closely-situated community of hippies is like a wool blanket—although it may chafe, it is something to be sought out when you need something to warm you up.

I guess I needed warming up, and I guess that's why we checked out the sauna.

Earthdance's sauna seems somewhat low-tech, but it's very effective. The whole thing is a two-room wooden shack with a wood burning stove and a heat-conducting metal chimney. You start the fire, slam and lock the door on the chamber, and enter the next room, which all the heat floods into. At Jason's tacit insistence, we opted for the steamless experience.

We entered the sauna room with our towels and water jugs as the thermometer needle ticked over 180° F. Jason tends towards overzealousness in most things.

A bent square of light, cast through the window in the door and thrown by the incandescent bulb in the vestibule, partially lit the nearest corner—but the tiny room was otherwise windowless and quite dark, containing nothing but the wooden benches and the stove pipes.

I'll confess that as I sat down I found myself thinking about something that fiend Svidrigalov says in Crime and Punishment, but couldn't remember it exactly, or in its completion.

("We always imagine eternity as something beyond our conception, something vast, vast! But why must it be vast? Instead of all that, what if it’s one little room, like a bath house in the country, black and grimy and spiders in every corner, and that’s all eternity is? I sometimes fancy it like that.")

So we sat and sweated and thought to ourselves in the darkness. Jason was doing some sitting stretches; I sat and tried to meditate, which I've never been good at doing even when it's not some 90° F past the threshold of uncomfortable. At 180° your mind vaults to an excited state. You're pouring sweat. The hair on your head becomes painful to the touch. It's like taking a first shot of everclear, but the burn is better distributed, and the taste is less unpleasant, and it's always the first shot, when it shocks you into focus before it makes you sloppy.

A hot, dark place where all you can be aware of is yourself, your thoughts, the sensations of the space upon your body. And that space is straight lines, right angles, and flat surfaces.

After a while it became a bit much. I had to cool off. I got up and leaped through the vestibule, outside into the snow and sleet.

Earthdance is out of the way, but not so remote that it doesn't light right up during a snowstorm. The light from the nearby towns bounced down from the overcast sky, bounced back up from the fallen snow, and the woods were bright enough that I could watch the steam rising from my body. I was completely naked—but had enough excess heat to shed that for several minutes the 27° F air didn't feel uncomfortable in the least.

Maybe it was because I wasn't in my normal mind, but when I looked up and around, I could have believed I was standing on the surface of an alien planet. In partial silhouette against the clouds, the forest canopy seemed like some ctenophoric bloom that Haeckel could have glimpsed in a delirious fit. Woods and weeds and rolling hills, uneven, asymmetrical, desultory, multifarious, indifferent to all our vaunted human consciousness or spirit—a haphazard snarl of space, motion, and estranged life that defied description.

(Image: not mine)

It astonished me that humanity could carve and bend so much of this primeval maelstrom into right angles, straight lines, and flat surfaces. And I felt reaffirmed in my conviction that those who would reason or swear that this maelstrom had an intelligent architect who designed it solely for the use and benefit of homo sapiens either pitifully foolish or dangerously insane.

In those moments, the spaces humanity has carved out for itself seemed both miraculous and profoundly terrible to me. From a chaotic tangle to right angles, flat surfaces, straight lines. Vitiating the planet to vitalize ourselves. Humanity's genius is a dream of right angles, flat surfaces, and straight lines. We remake reality into something less of itself so it won't roll over us, smother us, consume us. . .

The pain preceding numbness stabbed through my feet. I felt myself beginning to shiver.

There wasn't much I could do, being what I am, but I turn around and retreat back into the relative comfort of the shack in the woods. Into the straight lines, right angles, and flat surfaces. Into the burning, self-absorbed darkness.

*          *          *

It is very cold tonight.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The true reconciliation of Science and Theology

From the Book of Kells

So I've begun reading Andrew D. White's A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom (1896), which is a very fun title to repeat. The two-volume tome is an exhaustive record of how the medieval Christian conception of the physical world was formed and calcified, how natural inquiry gradually rose amid the scholastic autofellatio of the Dark Ages and early Renaissance, and how the scientific view pushed back against church doctrine in the human imagination.

In the introduction, White writes:

I simply try to aid in letting the light of historical truth into that decaying mass of outworn thought which attaches the modern world to mediaeval conceptions of Christianity, and which still lingers among usa most serious barrier to religion and morals, and a menace to the whole normal evolution of society."

The italics are mine; it's worth emphasizing that White isn't writing as an agnostic or atheist, but as a confessedly devout Christian who's exasperated with the outspoken, intransigent dogmatists sacrificing the faith's credibility waging stupid battles they're not going to win because reality simply isn't on their side. White argues that when perfervid fundamentalists assert the position that belief in evolution and belief in Scripture must be mutually exclusive (for instance), the faith is done a double disservice. After the theory of evolution withstands the theological attacks -- as it did, and as it does -- the thoughtful Christians who had it drilled into them that if Darwin is right then Bible is wrong are likely to jump ship. And, more importantly, when the Church so consistently acts so backwards and so thickheaded, the teachings that underlie it become hard to take seriously, and everything the faith might have to offer -- even the stuff that might be useful to people -- becomes deprecated and even ridiculous in the public mind.

(Full disclosure: still an atheist, in case you were wondering.)

I'd like to share an excerpt from an early section of the book, subtitled "The true reconciliation of Science and Theology" in the contents.

The revelations of another group of sciences, though sometimes bitterly opposed and sometimes "reconciled" by theologians, have finally set the whole question at rest. First, there have come the biblical criticsearnest Christian scholars, working for the sake of truthand these have revealed beyond the shadow of a reasonable doubt the existence of at least two distinct accounts of creation in our book of Genesis, which can sometimes be forced to agree, but which are generally absolutely at variance with each other. These scholars have further shown the two accounts to be not the cunningly devised fables of priestcraft, but evidently fragments of earlier legends, myths, and theologies, accepted in good faith and brought together for the noblest of purposes by those who put in order the first of our sacred books.

Next have come the archaeologists and philologists, the devoted students of ancient monuments and records; of these are such as Rawlinson, George Smith, Sayce, Oppert, Jensen, Schrader, Delitzsch, and a phalanx of similarly devoted scholars, who have deciphered a multitude of ancient texts, especially the inscriptions found in the great library of Assurbanipal at Nineveh, and have discovered therein an account of the origin of the world identical in its most important features with the later accounts in our own book of Genesis.

These men have had the courage to point out these facts and to connect them with the truth that these Chaldean and Babylonian myths, legends, and theories were far earlier than those of the Hebrews, which so strikingly resemble them, and which we have in our sacred books; and they have also shown us how natural it was that the Jewish accounts of the creation should have been obtained at that remote period when the earliest Hebrews were among the Chaldeans, and how the great Hebrew poetic accounts of creation were drawn either from the sacred traditions of these earlier peoples or from antecedent sources common to various ancient nations.

In a summary which for profound thought and fearless integrity does honour not only to himself but to the great position which he holds, the Rev. Dr. Driver, Professor of Hebrew and Canon of Christ Church at Oxford, has recently stated the case fully and fairly. Having pointed out the fact that the Hebrews were one people out of many who thought upon the origin of the universe, he says that they "framed theories to account for the beginnings of the earth and man"; that "they either did this for themselves or borrowed those of their neighbours"; that "of the theories current in Assyria and Phoenicia fragments have been preserved, and these exhibit points of resemblance with the biblical narrative sufficient to warrant the inference that both are derived from the same cycle of tradition."

After giving some extracts from the Chaldean creation tablets he says: "In the light of these facts it is difficult to resist the conclusion that the biblical narrative is drawn from the same source as these other records. The biblical historians, it is plain, derived their materials from the best human sources available.... The materials which with other nations were combined into the crudest physical theories or associated with a grotesque polytheism were vivified and transformed by the inspired genius of the Hebrew historians, and adapted to become the vehicle of profound religious truth."

Not less honourable to the sister university and to himself is the statement recently made by the Rev. Dr. Ryle, Hulsean Professor of Divinity at Cambridge. He says that to suppose that a Christian "must either renounce his confidence in the achievements of scientific research or abandon his faith in Scripture is a monstrous perversion of Christian freedom." He declares: "The old position is no longer tenable; a new position has to be taken up at once, prayerfully chosen, and hopefully held." He then goes on to compare the Hebrew story of creation with the earlier stories developed among kindred peoples, and especially with the pre-existing Assyro-Babylonian cosmogony, and shows that they are from the same source. He points out that any attempt to explain particular features of the story into harmony with the modern scientific ideas necessitates "a non-natural" interpretation; but he says that, if we adopt a natural interpretation, "we shall consider that the Hebrew description of the visible universe is unscientific as judged by modern standards, and that it shares the limitations of the imperfect knowledge of the age at which it was committed to writing." Regarding the account in Genesis of man's physical origin, he says that it "is expressed in the simple terms of prehistoric legend, of unscientific pictorial description."

In these statements and in a multitude of others made by eminent Christian investigators in other countries is indicated what the victory is which has now been fully won over the older theology.

Thus, from the Assyrian researches as well as from other sources, it has come to be acknowledged by the most eminent scholars at the leading seats of Christian learning that the accounts of creation with which for nearly two thousand years all scientific discoveries have had to be "reconciled"the accounts which blocked the way of Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and Laplacewere simply transcribed or evolved from a mass of myths and legends largely derived by the Hebrews from their ancient relations with Chaldea, rewrought in a monotheistic sense, imperfectly welded together, and then thrown into poetic forms in the sacred books which we have inherited.

On one hand, then, we have the various groups of men devoted to the physical sciences all converging toward the proofs that the universe, as we at present know it, is the result of an evolutionary processthat is, of the gradual working of physical laws upon an early condition of matter; on the other hand, we have other great groups of men devoted to historical, philological, and archaeological science whose researches all converge toward the conclusion that our sacred accounts of creation were the result of an evolution from an early chaos of rude opinion.

The great body of theologians who have so long resisted the conclusions of the men of science have claimed to be fighting especially for "the truth of Scripture," and their final answer to the simple conclusions of science regarding the evolution of the material universe has been the cry, "The Bible is true." And they are rightthough in a sense nobler than they have dreamed. Science, while conquering them, has found in our Scriptures a far nobler truth than that literal historical exactness for which theologians have so long and so vainly contended. More and more as we consider the results of the long struggle in this field we are brought to the conclusion that the inestimable value of the great sacred books of the world is found in their revelation of the steady striving of our race after higher conceptions, beliefs, and aspirations, both in morals and religion. Unfolding and exhibiting this long-continued effort, each of the great sacred books of the world is precious, and all, in the highest sense, are true. Not one of them, indeed, conforms to the measure of what mankind has now reached in historical and scientific truth; to make a claim to such conformity is folly, for it simply exposes those who make it and the books for which it is made to loss of their just influence.

That to which the great sacred books of the world conform, and our own most of all, is the evolution of the highest conceptions, beliefs, and aspirations of our race from its childhood through the great turning-points in its history. Herein lies the truth of all bibles, and especially of our own. Of vast value they indeed often are as a record of historical outward fact; recent researches in the East are constantly increasing this value; but it is not for this that we prize them most: they are eminently precious, not as a record of outward fact, but as a mirror of the evolving heart, mind, and soul of man. They are true because they have been developed in accordance with the laws governing the evolution of truth in human history, and because in poem, chronicle, code, legend, myth, apologue, or parable they reflect this development of what is best in the onward march of humanity. To say that they are not true is as if one should say that a flower or a tree or a planet is not true; to scoff at them is to scoff at the law of the universe. In welding together into noble form, whether in the book of Genesis, or in the Psalms, or in the book of Job, or elsewhere, the great conceptions of men acting under earlier inspiration, whether in Egypt, or Chaldea, or India, or Persia, the compilers of our sacred books have given to humanity a possession ever becoming more and more precious; and modern science, in substituting a new heaven and a new earth for the oldthe reign of law for the reign of caprice, and the idea of evolution for that of creationhas added and is steadily adding a new revelation divinely inspired.

In the light of these two evolutions, thenone of the visible universe, the other of a sacred creation-legendscience and theology, if the master minds in both are wise, may at last be reconciled. A great step in this reconciliation was recently seen at the main centre of theological thought among English-speaking people, when, in the collection of essays entitled Lux Mundi, emanating from the college established in these latter days as a fortress of orthodoxy at Oxford, the legendary character of the creation accounts in our sacred books was acknowledged, and when the Archbishop of Canterbury asked, "May not the Holy Spirit at times have made use of myth and legend?"

Tuesday, January 7, 2014


This image doesn't have anything to do with the content below. Sorry.

ITEM #1: I was being just a little facetious in the last post. I'm not against tourism or traveling (I'm occasionally guilty of it myself), but I think the quixotic twentysomething high fructose attitude misses something. I think the experience of "travel" as described in that pic (by the text, irrespective of the image) is qualified by three things: work, weirdness, discomfort. Traveling (really traveling) can be edifying, but the full experience of going beyond your boundaries means coming up against work, weirdness, and discomfort. It has to be unnerving and unpleasant, at least on occasion. You haven't really left your comfort zone until you've found yourself wanting to go back at least once. If what you call Travel is lacking work, weirdness, or discomfort, it's not the authentic specimen. It might be Tourism, Visiting, or Just Passing Through, but I doubt that it's Travel.

Here's that Emerson quote in a bit more context, from "Self-Reliance:"

It is for want of self-culture that the superstition of Travelling, whose idols are Italy, England, Egypt, retains its fascination for all educated Americans. They who made England, Italy, or Greece venerable in the imagination did so by sticking fast where they were, like an axis of the earth. In manly hours, we feel that duty is our place. The soul is no traveller; the wise man stays at home, and when his necessities, his duties, on any occasion call him from his house, or into foreign lands, he is at home still, and shall make men sensible by the expression of his countenance, that he goes the missionary of wisdom and virtue, and visits cities and men like a sovereign, and not like an interloper or a valet.

I have no churlish objection to the circumnavigation of the globe, for the purposes of art, of study, and benevolence, so that the man is first domesticated, or does not go abroad with the hope of finding somewhat greater than he knows. He who travels to be amused, or to get somewhat which he does not carry, travels away from himself, and grows old even in youth among old things. In Thebes, in Palmyra, his will and mind have become old and dilapidated as they. He carries ruins to ruins.

Travelling is a fool's paradise. Our first journeys discover to us the indifference of places. At home I dream that at Naples, at Rome, I can be intoxicated with beauty, and lose my sadness. I pack my trunk, embrace my friends, embark on the sea, and at last wake up in Naples, and there beside me is the stern fact, the sad self, unrelenting, identical, that I fled from. I seek the Vatican, and the palaces. I affect to be intoxicated with sights and suggestions, but I am not intoxicated. My giant goes with me wherever I go.

ITEM #2: Right, right. New calendar year. I am listing these "resolutions" so I'll be on record saying I intend to do them.


A History of the Warfare Between Science and Theology in Christendom, Andrew D. White. Title might be self-explanatory. The two-volume magnum opus of Cornell University's founder is full of chapter titles like "From Creation to Evolution," "From Magic to Chemistry and Physics," and "From Signs and Wonders to Law in the Heavens." Meaty!

Science and the Modern World, Alfred N. Whitehead. Attempt #3. This time I do it for real. This time I will be taking notes and pounding espresso shots every five minutes. (Fun fact: Science and the Modern World was the densest object conceived by humanity until the existence of neutron stars was proposed in 1934.)

Cryptonomicon, Neil Stephenson. After bugging me to read it for years, my old man finally got fed up and slammed a copy of Cryptonomicon into my hands on Christmas. Guess I have no excuses now.

White-Jacket, Herman Melville. Why yes, I do intend to eventually read Herman's whole extant body of fiction. If I could get away with digging him up, propping him up on an easy chair in the living room, and sharing brunch with him every morning, I'd do that too.

Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy. Been too highly recommended by too many people not to vault towards the front of the queue.

At least two novels written in the last five years. I'm open to suggestion.


Publishing (A): My goal is to get at least three (3) pieces of short fiction published in the next year.

Publishing (B): I have a novel-length manuscript called "All the Lonely People" that I need to deal with. I've compiled a list of forty more people/places to send it two for a second round of pitching, bringing the total close to a hundred. If there are no takers this time around, I'm just going to self-publish the damn thing and get on with my life (even though I'd rather clamp jumper cables to my testicles than take that route again).

MOTHER 3 writeup: I'll be honest. I have no interest in video game crit lately. Don't ask me why; I don't know why. My brain turns into a lighter without any flint when I try to do it. But I haven't given up on taking on MOTHER 3; it represents unfinished business. (I am also willing to finish covering the Legacy of Kain pieces, but my asking price is $300 per game.)

Start on a new novel?: I see a conflict of interest between this and the first item of the next section. 

Begin titling blog posts like Upworthy articles: See above. 


Quit smoking. Right, right. Again. It's only been a month and a half since I relapsed, and I'm already at the stage where I can't have a cig without UGH GROSS WHY AM I DOING THIS flashing through my mind at least once. It comes sooner and sooner every time.

Learn how to forage. Too many of my hobbies and interests are cloistered in the intellect. I want to cultivate a skill that has some practical value, that gets my hands dirty, and that yields something physical and usable for my trouble. My lady friend is a veteran chef, and I've lately been indulging in fantasies where I vanish into the woods and reappear with a wheelbarrow full of edibles that she converts into meals. It's a beautiful dream, but I'm not deluding myself: I fully expect I will poison us both at least once. Hmm. Guess I'll have to add a few field guides and biology textbooks to that reading list, huh.

Start keeping a dream journal. Doubt I can actually make a habit of it, but it's something I'd like to do.

Learn to love myself. Yeah, nope. Don't see it happening. Maybe I'll just settle for learning to like everyone else a little less.