Friday, June 29, 2007

Why Care About Rome's Fall, Part I

In a vague and ranty comment on a previous post by Burglar I made the following comment:
This is slightly off topic, but I seem to remember reading about some other civilization that saw itself as "a continuation of the Roman Empire with no discernable breaking-off-point in administration, political theory, judicial practice, ruling imperium, economics or culture" and even went so far as to keep calling themselves "Romans" all the way up to the, oh, mid-1400s or something like that ... but darned if I can't remember what we call those guys. Maybe it was the "Dark Empire" or something like that.

The point, as was pointed out, was somewhat overly-obscured in my attempt to be facetious (I'll keep working up to my career as a satirist), but nonetheless one that is important not only for historians, but for those who read the “canon” of Western Great books and care about the story of Western Culture in general—and I hope that covers a large percentage of the avid readership of this blog. On the one hand, the story of Rome’s fall will always be important because of the continuous power of the idea in the life and thought of the West—one can think of Augustine’s City of God (c.413-426) and Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (c. 1776-88) as landmarks on each end of the development and use of the story.

On the other hand, scholars who work on the Byzantine Empire and Late Antiquity have done much work in the last decades (Peter Brown, currently at Princeton, is still the most important person to read on this topic and is quite readable) to show that however powerful and influential this story of the Fall of Rome, as far as understanding the life and times, and especially the political and economic structures, and the worldview and culture of citizens of the Roman Empire around the Mediterranean in the 5th and 6th centuries, it is downright false, and at best unhelpful when presented alone and as fact: my own stance is that it is helpful—necessary!—to present the truths present in each of the stories(Rome fell vs. Rome continued), but all of that is for another post.[1]

Today I came across a paragraph by a well-known Patristics scholar at Univ. of Durham, Andrew Louth, that succinctly and cogently explains the view that has come to be accepted by most scholars, and that should be read at least twice at breakfast each day until it is internalized:

The beginning of the [sixth] century saw Anastasius (491-518) on the imperial throne, ruling an empire that was still thought of as essentially the Roman Empire, coextensive with the world of the Mediterranean, however unrealistic such a view seems to modern historians, who have the benefit of hindsight. Although Anastasius ruled from Constantinople, ‘New Rome,’ over what we call the ‘Eastern Empire’, the Western Empire having been carved up into the ‘barbarian kingdoms’, this perspective is ours, not theirs. Through the conferring of titles in the gift of the emperor, and the purchasing of alliances with the wealth of the Empire—wealth that was to dwarf the monetary resources of the West for centuries to come—the barbarian kings could be regarded as client kings, each acknowledging the suzerainty of the emperor in New Rome, and indeed the barbarian kings were frequently happy to regard themselves in this light. The discontinuation of the series of emperors in the West, with the deposition of Romulus Augstulus in 476, was regarded by very few contemporaries as a significant event: the notion that East and West should each have its own emperor was barely of a century’s standing, and the reality of barbarian military power in the West, manipulated from Constantinople, continued, unaffected by the loss of an ‘emperor’ based in the West.[2]

[1] Note that just about every Medieval survey course you will find starts in 476 with “The Fall of the Roman Empire”. It's not that there aren’t respectable books published by very restectable institutions that still argue for the "old view"—see Bryan Ward-Perkins’ The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization (2006) ); they just happen to be flat wrong. The caricature of the prevailing view cited in Ward-Perkins’ synopsis, that “there [was] no crisis at all, but simply a peaceful blending of barbarians into Roman culture, an essentially positive transformation” is a straw man argument which no one is saying. Look for a (brief and mostly rant-free, I promise!) review of this book later in the summer in which I will try to focus on why the current orthodoxy is important to get across to anyone who reads from or teaches the Canon of Great Books.
[2] New Cambridge Medieval History v. I: 500-700, p. 93

A "Post" While on Vacation

From St. Augustine, The City of God, book 11, chapter 25 (trans. Dyson):

. . . the philosophers have wished to divide their discipline into three parts (or, rather, were enabled to see that there is such a threefold division; for they did not invent it, but only discovered it): of which one part is called physical, another logical and the third ethical. . . .

. . . . Plato, however, is said to have been the first to discover and recommend this division, and he saw that only God could be the author of nature, the giver of intelligence and the inspirer of the love by which life is made good and blessed. Also, it is certain that, though opinions differ as to the nature of things, and the method of investigating truth, and the good to which we ough to refer all that we do, it is to these three great and general questions that all the efforts of the philosophers are devoted. Thus, though there is much disagreement as to which view each man ought to take in respect of any of these questions, no one doubts that nature has some cause, science some method, and life some purpose.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

(Don't) Dare to be Indifferent

Sometime in my teens I developed the now well-established habit of reading several books at once. One of the current reasons for this practice is that many of the books I read professionally are the sort that you either skim in an afternoon to get the jist, or are so dry they need to be spread over several days and interrupted with things that are wild and open and free (Aubrey/Maturin is a frequent refuge) to prevent dry rot of the mind.

Another is that reading several (good) books at the same time allows for interesting connections, and sometimes ideas arise from one book that help to explain something from another, however unrelated they may seem.

Today’s example: George MacDonald’s Lilith (1895) and Philip E. Johnson’s The Wedge of Truth (2000).

Johnson’s book is sort of a summary of “where we are at, what we are about, and why we will win” of the Wedge movement. If you are unfamiliar with what this is, Google search and you will find lots of interesting and important things to read. I will do a post of Johnson’s book on its own later this summer. For now, I simply want to point out how Johnson helped to explicate MacDonald’s project.

One of the first things you will find out if you read anything about MacDonald—everyone seems required to make it part of their opening salvo, so why should I break the trend?—is that he was all but forced out of his Congregationalist pastorate in 1853 because he was accused of positing that “with the heathen the time of trial does not cease at their death”—ie., that people can come to salvation in Christ even after they have died.

This view is certainely prevalent in MacDonald’s fantasies, especially because in these texts it is often impossible to tell whether or not MacDonald’s characters have physically died—as we know and understand death—or not. MacDonald believed we were presented with the opportunity to spiritually die all the time, and that these were the meaningful deaths because out of them would come real, true, life. Physical death was only significant insofar as it aided and pointed to a spiritual death and rebirth.

Lilith is entitled for the woman, Lilith who, as queen of a city, has set herself up to oppose Adam (yes, that Adam) who is also Christ, who also happens to be her father (don’t try to figure it out, just go with the flow). She is not quite Satan, but at least an anti-Christ in the sense of being totally and completely opposed to Christ/Adam and devoted to stopping any and all from finding Christ/Adam and doing what he wants for them. Despite all the weird evil nastiness in the book, including Lilith herself who is the queen of Nasty and Evil, they all (!SPOILERS FROM HERE ON!) are led to salvation in the end.

All, that is, except one group of people, and this is what is missed by the people who quote the doctrinal opposition to MacDonald and then move on. They are the “giants,” and are the children who stopped being children. Lona (Queen of the Little Ones—read: “childlike souls”) explains this to Mr. Vane (“a person who is readily changeable or fickle”, the protagonist of the work) in Chapter 13:

“The giants were not made always. … If a Little One doesn’t care, he grows greedy, and then lazy, and then big, and then stupid, and then bad. The dull creatures don’t know that they come from us. Very few of them believe we are anywhere. They say Nonesense!—Look at little Blunty: he is eating one of their apples! He will be the next! Oh! oh! he will soon be big and bad and ugly, and not know it!”

And a bit later …

“The giants have lost themselves … and that is why they never smile. I wonder whether they are not glad because they are bad, or bad because they are not glad. But they can’t be glad when they have no babies! I wonder what bad means, good giant!”

Now, to make the next point I’m going to have to interpret the text a bit, but I trust the reader will allow it, and in any case, I am pretty confident that this is right because it fits (my reasoning for those who have read the text is below).[1] At the end of the text, MacDonald is describing the world reborn in that last and triumphant day. As I stated above, Lilith and practically everyone are (being) saved except …

“We came to the fearful hollow where once had wallowed the monsters of the earth. It was indeed, as I had beheld it in my dream, a lovely lake. I gazed into its pellucid depths. A whirlpool had swept out the soil in which the abortions burrowed, and at the bottom lay visible the whole horrid brood: a dim greenish light pervaded the crystalline water, and revealed every hideous form beneath it. Coiled in spires, folded in layers, knotted on themselves, or “extended long and large,” they weltered on motionless heaps—shapes more fantastic in goulish, blasting dismay, than ever wine-sodden brain of exhausted poet fevered into misbeing … every head the wicked flower that, bursting from an abominable stalk, perfected its evil significance.

“Not one of them moved as we passed. But they were not dead. So long as exist men and women of unwholesome mind, that lake will still be peopled with loathsomenesses.” (Chapter 45)

For MacDonald, even those totally opposed to Christ can, and will, be saved (ie., Lilith). Perhaps because their very stance of opposition to him necessitates that he exists. There are, in his fantasy, however, those who cannot be saved, who have turned off the light, who follow the path of greediness to badness. The path of selfishness to the place of indifference. In the fantastic imagination of MacDonald, indifference is the chief, the unforgivable, damnable sin.[2]

The question that arose for me is: what sort of emphases in Christian salvation led to this view of the world and of Christ’s work? Why, now that we know MacDonald does believe in certain souls really truly damning themselves, is indifference that unforgivable sin? Enter Johnson (emphasis mine of course) [3]:

“… to distinguish between theoretical and practical problems of Christian theology. At the theoretical level, for example, there is the perennial question of whether the existence of evil and suffering can be reconciled with God’s goodness and omnipotence. At the practical level, the Christian traveler wants to know how to overcome evil and bring goodness out of it. … Christian travelers, knowing the reality of sin from within, want rather to know how they can be saved from it.”

MacDonald is writing for a ‘practical’ Christian, the Christian on the path. Non-Christians, Liliths, may be on the wrong path, but they are really on an anti-path which, once they are shown what is what, can be led along that correct path. The point is that they are trying to go somewhere.

MacDonald writes as a traveler, to fellow travelers. Those who are excluded from this audience are those who would rather sit at home in front of the telly and not be bothered at all. And in this context, I think I have to agree with MacDonald that for the Christian traveler with practical concerns it really doesn’t matter when, “with the heathen, their time of trial ceases” so much as it matters how we journey and what we try to say to them, and what we make of our own state of sin, for in the end, God is the singular righteous judge. It ain’t gonna make Aquinas happy, but it may be a bit more helpful day-to-day; a bit more capable of showing what are the effects of sin and why to turn from it, and how to die to self.

So, write it on your inside cover when you next sit down to read MacDonald: “A practical Christian on how to overcome evil, bring goodness out of it, and be saved.” Thanks, Uncle Phil.

Relevant Links:
The Golden Key Website
A brief and cursory summary of George MacDonald’s emphases in his understanding of salvation
Lilith notes by his son and also biographer, Greville (interesting in method of composition—understanding what MacDonald wanted his texts to do to/for the reader)
Questions while reading Lilith (I found some, not all, of these to be helpful)
An essay by Robert Trexler on MacDonald that makes the argument that since CS Lewis redirected people'e attention to him, MacDonald has almost always been read through the lens of the effect he had on Lewis (ironic, then, the pamphlet in which it appears!); also some helpful thoughts on other works about MacDonald; this CSL Society issue also includes a bibliography of GM and images of places he lived.

[1] The argument is that the first valley through which Vane passes parallels the second. In the first you have Mara and her cats, who ward off the ghoulish spirits; in the second you have Lona and her Little Ones, who fight against the Giants. The evidence for their overlap is in the passage about to be cited where MacDonald goes directly from describing the ghouls in the lake to describing the same sort of people—unwholesomenesses—that the Giants are said to have become.

[2] I’m not trying to offer Biblical defense for his theology, but the idea immediately made me think of Revelation 3:15-20 (to Laodicea, last of the seven):
“I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of my mouth. Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.”
[3] Who actually is playing with an analogy from J.I. Packer, see page 143-145 of Wedge.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Is That Legal?

Tigers trade pitcher Mike Maroth to the Cardinals. While this answers some questions about who's going to be in the starting rotation now that the Gambler is back (tonight!), the thought of trading a good pitcher to the team that beat you in the World Series is weird.

Also, the Cards GM had this to say about Maroth: "He is an established starter who is going to provide us with innings and help take pressure off of our bullpen. We think the change in leagues will also benefit Mike."

What's that last sentence mean? Two options: (1) Maroth is a good hitter and will now get the chance to swing the bat -- not likely. (2) The hitters in the NL are crappy -- more likely.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

When Achilles Becomes a Soda Jerk

(And then becomes a Real American Hero)

Taking the cue from the incomparable Bourgwife, my wife and I have signed up for a netflix plan and are now faithfully viewing our way through the America’s Top 100 Movies list, attempting to learn how to watch and what to watch for along the way.

I won’t really try to write real reviews or plot summaries—taking my cue from Burglar, I will provide links to people who know how to do that at the end of the post, if you’re unfamiliar with the film perhaps go there first—rather, the focus will be on notes towards film literacy (being able to “read” the film-making techniques correctly) with some forays into meaning and message. I also would like to apologize now for being rambly: I don't really know what I'm doing so it takes me a while to say something.

Take One: The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

Film vocab I learned: “Deep Focus Photography”—allowing the director to have the main subject(s) in the foreground, and important action in the background that is still clearly visible [example: when Dana Andrews and Teresa Wright chat at the Drug Store with the owner, on the second floor and far behind them, visibly keeping watch]. “Long takes”—just what it appears to mean, allows the viewer to become intimate with the story as we occupy a stationary observation point. Employed to an extreme in Hitchcock’s Rope to prolong the suspense of fear. “One-camera setup”—going with long takes, the camera can move, but here the director only sets-up-one-camera, taking away the possibility of cutting in for a close face shot, etc.. The cinematographer for this film is Gregg Toland of Citizen Kane fame.

There are a lot of really memorable takes in this film. Director William Wyler (important/famous in the post WWII era) begins this movie on servicemen returning home after the war with the arrivals gate of an airport terminal; the camera is at an angle to the gate; Fred Derry (Dana Andrews) comes out and walks towards camera, at an angle to everyone else (civilians) and the foot traffic patterns in the terminal; walks up to the ticket counter and the airforce captain can’t get a plane ticket home while a plump businessman walks up, slaps down a wad of cash and gets his overweight baggage on board. Function: set up the plot for the arrival home; Message: the servicemen don’t fit, they are at odds with this society, and everything that held their world together in the army means nothing anymore. Emotion: disjointedness (is that an emotion word?).

There are many memorable camera shots: the three male leads flying home in the nose of a bomber, looking out at acres of junked airplanes (“... wish we’d had those in ‘42!”) [note: deep-focus photography]; taxi ride home looking at Boone City through the front window, with the shell-shocked servicemen in the rearview mirror; Dana Andrews finally finding himself while wandering amidst the carcasses of his formerly glorious war stallions (bombers), Fred Derry (Andrews) and Sgt. Stephenson staring at each other in a booth at Butch's Bar while they discuss whether or not Derry is in love with Stephenson's daughter, and what to do about it. There is a moment at the end of the film, however, where Wyler shoots the wedding of one of the men, and he tries to visually wrap up the film just a little bit too quaintly. Every one of the leads is fit into the same shot, all in different physical spaces—quite a technical feat. It is worth pausing the film here and noticing all of the spatial relations and lines of sight, etc., because they are all meaningfully thought out (trying to explain them here, however, would take about a page and I don’t feel like photoshopping a screen shot). However, this is just a little too heady, and for my price of admission, Wyler is getting a little too wrapped up in making it all carry the right meaning and no one stopping him to say, “Wait, Will, it just looks weird now.”

The acting is incredible, as one can expect from anything on this list. One blemish: the first time through, young Rob Stephenson (Michael Hall) really annoyed me because he was extremely awkward. The second time through I decided he was affecting that, and it makes sense to do so (the son and the father don’t understand one another: again the effects of the war, and tantamount to a prophecy from Wyler about the baby boomer generation and post-Korea views of War in America) but Hall went just a little overboard so that it’s one of those moments where the viewer is squirming in his seat – anytime there is a hiccup in suspension of belief someone messed up. On the opposite end, a performance for the ages was given by first-timer Harold Russell (read about it below). Hoagy Carmichael gave the best delivery of the best line in the movie, and Al Stephenson was hilarious on multiple occassions.

One of the most fascinating portrayals for me was of a Stephenson family discussion in the parent’s bedroom [note the setting and use of mirrors], where the adult daughter (Teresa Wright) confesses her desire and intention to “break up that marriage [Dana Andrews and Virginia Mayo]” and commit adultery with Fred. Her father rebukes her (which she accepts!!), and then confronts her desired Fred [D. Andrews] later. But this genuine, believable dramatic depiction, completely void of any shred of irony, of a family that has such conversations—and children who do not regret them but want and need them—floored me. Take that, Foucault.

Message. Overall, Wyler and Producer Samuel Goldwyn do an extremely convincing portrayal of the difficulties and emotional struggles of men who return from war and those who love them; this alone, however, could not have held an audience happily captive for three hours (and you are held a willing captive!). Best Years also presents how the three men came to understand themselves, what they learned from the war, and what they and that knowledge are good for back Home. The solutions are not easy (Virginia Mayo’s “Just get over it, will ya?!” is rejected as a solution, as is Harold Russel’s inclination to brood and internalize, or the anonymous Peace-Monger’s rejection of the reasons for going to war in the first place and blame of the government), but point is that real solutions are there, and they are attainable, and ultimately fulfilling. These are all better men for having come back from war and learning to accept themselves and those around them.

Next time: a shorter post.

Related Links:
On Visuals.
On W. Wyler and G. Toland.
On Harold Russell
On the film’s place in American Film-making (brief)
A Contemporary NYT Review of Nov 22, 1946

On What Can Be Beautiful

Aristotle, in Poetics, says, "the beautiful is in both the magnitude and the arrangement. Wherefore neither the very small should become a beautiful animal (for since the vision [of it] occurs in a nearly unfelt extent of time it is confused) nor should the very large (for the vision [of it] does not happen all at the same time, but the single and whole thing is gone from the vision of those who see it, if, for example, the animal should be a thousand stades long)" (1450b35ff, Thorgerson trans.).

In Plato's Timaeus, Timaeus says that the cosmos is beautiful: it is the "most beautiful of things born" (29a); the god "joined together the all so that he had fashioned a work that would be most beautiful and best in accordance with nature" (30b); and "the god wanted to make it as similar as possible to the most beautiful of things grasped by the intellect" (30d-31a).

Now I take it that the cosmos counts as a very large object. So is Aristotle disagreeing with Plato/Timaeus on this matter?

But there's more. Timaeus says that the four elements (fire, air, water, earth) are "preeminent in beauty" (53e). Naturally, these elements are very, very small (though not the smallest of things). So now Plato/Timaeus seems to also be disagreeing with Aristotle about the possibility that small things can be beautiful.

I'll look in Aristotle's De Caelo to see if he makes similar comments about the universe.

But now I wonder who's right? We might say that pace Aristotle, microorganisms are beautiful. But our saying this depends upon looking at them through a microscope, by which a larger image of the organism appears to us. So is the microorganism beautiful, or just its larger image?

Similarly for the universe. We often say that the universe is beautiful. But don't we just mean that an image (usually a picture) of some region of the universe is beautiful?

Plato's way out: Defend the position that what is most beautiful is not visible.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Tempting Fate

Here I tempt the Fates by saying that the Tigers beat the Nationals 15-1 tonight, and had Jones come on in "relief," not even he could have made it interesting.

In related news, I hope today is the beginning of the end for those pretenders in Cleveland. The Tigers are tied with the Tribe for first in the uber-tough AL Central.

Disciple of Jones?

Twins fans hope not. But on last Sunday night, Joe Nathan, Twins closer extroardinaire, did his own very creative impersonation; and, perhaps hoping to make up what was left out of the most recent instance of Classic Jones and emphasized, in a way previously thought impossible at the Major League Level, Classic Jones criteria #2:

1. Jones must come on with more than a one-run lead so that he can give up at least one run.
2. Jones must get runners on the bases early from a fluke hit or error.
3. Jones must face one of the other team's top hitters.
4. Jones must benefit from a solid defensive play.
5. Jones must give up a run (often in exchange for an out or two).
6. Jones must let the other team hit into the final out; the motive here seems to be to avoid striking anyone out.

This was not just any old Jonesy-flukey play: this was a play you quite literally cannot see in any other major league baseball stadium (highlight link under "multimedia"), and probably never will again in the Metrodome ... ever ... again (so we pray).

Top of the ninth inning. The Twins have been slowly blowing a 9-2 lead over the Milwaukee Brewers, and it is now 9-7. Enter Todd Jones with a Joe Nathan mask on.

Batter 1: Prince Fielder steps up, and on a 1-1 count, hits a routine fly ball to center. The substitute center fielder, Lew Ford (Torii Hunter had left the game with a hand bruise), loses the ball in the teflon grey of the indoor stadium's roof. He decides to run around aimlessly looking up. The ball lands about ten feet from where he had started, bounces once, and dies in the synthetic grass. All 6 ft., 260 lbs. of Prince Fielder ... well, he makes it around the bases in time. For a lack of adequate verbage, I give you the Twins' announcers (Dick Such and Bert Blyleven), shell-shocked comments:

"He won't be able to catch his breath until tomorrow."

"He ran the bases like he was on roller skates ... but he got there."

Minnesota still up 9-8

But, no! What is that you say? The Classic Jones theme must continue to develop?

This single play was so incredible, Nathan developed a visible twitch, and continued to throw Jones-esque warm up pitches, just to get things really heated up:

Batter 2: Hall hits a pathetic ground ball bleeder through the right side of the infield.
Batter 3: Estrada liner base hit to right. Runners on 1st and 2nd.
Batter 4: Jenkins base hit to center.

At this point we have: bases loaded for Milwaukee, none out; Nathan 16 pitches thrown. Then, Nathan begins the Classic Jones wind-down.

Batter 5: Graffanino: Strike Out. One out.
Batter 6: Counsel: Short sac fly to center, two out. Hall Scores: Game tied, 9-9. Batter 7: Hart (already had 2 home runs in the game); the count goes to 1-2, the Brewers double steal: Runners at second and third; Hart then strikes out swinging. Inning Over.

So, to sum up the pitching performance ala Jones: Criteria 1 and 2 clearly met. Criteria 3: well, Nathan faced pretty much the whole lineup. 4: no. 5: yes. 6: no. Here, Nathan has difficulty completing the Classic Jones in #'s 4 and 6 because of his propensity to strike batters out, and so does not need the solid defensive play, and is not able to induce a hit-into-final-out. We now realize it cannot be Jones in a Nathan mask, but perhaps Nathan was temporarily hypnotized by the idea of the Classic Jones by watching recent Tiger highlights over and over and over on his cell phone. We can only speculate.

To finish the story, the Twins' reigning AL MVP, Justin Morneau comes up first in the bottom of the ninth, and on the second pitch, parks it in the right field bleachers (see highlight at Morneau's link under "multimedia"), and walks off, 10-9. Twins fans everywhere exchange emails with their Tigers fan friends in commiseration.

Dick Such:"The Twins snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. What might have been the most gripping loss of this season, and they end up on top anyway."

The essence of Classic Jones.

Poetics 1450a

And it is an imitation of action, and especially because of this, of the men acting.

Third, the “thought”.

And this is the ability to say suitable and appropriate things, which indeed, in the case of words [1], is the work of the politician and rhetorician. For the ancients crafted people [2] who spoke politically and moderns, rhetorically. And “character” [3] is the sort of thing which clarifies choice, the sort [of choice] in which a person is not clear whether he choose or flee; wherefore those speeches do not have “character” in which there is nothing at all which the speaker chooses or flees. But “thought” is in those [speeches] that declare how something is or is not, or what it is generally considered [to be].

And fourth, of the things under “language”, is diction. As was said previously, I mean “diction” to be expression through language which, in the case of meter and the case of prose, has the same capability.

And of the remaining matters, song craft is the greatest of the ornamentations[4]; but the persuasive visual element is most unskillful and the least natural to the poetic craft, for tragedy is powerful even without the assembly and the actors, and moreover the skill of the fabricator (or 'costumier') is more authoritative as regards creating of the visuals than the skill of the poetic-crafters.[5]

7. These things having been defined then, after these matters, let us say what sort of arrangement is necessary for the arrangement of the actions, since this is the first and most important element of tragedy.

And it was laid down by us that tragedy is an imitation of a whole and complete action possessing some magnitude; for something is whole and has not magnitude.

And, something whole possesses a beginning, middle and end: and the beginning is that which is not by necessity after something else, after this some other thing comes to be or to become; and the end is that other sort of thing which comes to be after something else either by necessity or as in the majority [of the time], and after this there is nothing else; and the middle is that thing which is after another thing and after it [there are] other things.

It is necessary for the stories to be well arranged, neither happening to begin from wherever nor chancing to end at whatever point, but to express the forms that have been discussed.

Moreover since the beautiful—in respect to both an animal and whatever sort of deed which came together from some [causes]—it is not only necessary to have the arranged things [6], but also the magnanimity possessed not by chance occurance; for the beautiful is in both the magnanimity and the arrangement. Wherefor neither the very small should become a beautiful animal (for since the vision [of it] occurs in a nearly unfelt extent of time it is confused) nor should the very large (for the vision [of it] does not happen all at the same time, but the single and whole thing is gone from the vision of those who see it[7] if for example the animal should be a thousand stades long).

[1] epi (LSJ, A.I.2.f: “in the case of” or A.III.4: “in respect of,” “concerning”) twn logwn
[2] I think this means people in the plays – ie., the “doing” or “acting” men of the first sentence. [3] The LSJ definition of “ηθος” for Aristotle is dramatis persona, so “character” in the sense of drama.
[4] One translation says “enrichments”. The root of the word is the idea of sweetening something.
[5] Ar. is making a negative rhetorical argument: the costumier (for instance) has more say over the visual elements of the play than does the writer of the tragedy, so how can something that our hero, the guy who “synthesizes the plot elements,” has no control over be an essential part of tragedy?
[6] I understand this to mean, essentially, “fate” or “destiny” which Ar. validates in the next phrase—he is contrasting the things that must necessarily happen to someone, and the things that they make happen by their “magnamity” in action.
[7] Making use of the possessive dative; not sure this is correct.

One Way to Learn Greek

The learned Dr. Gilleland informs us of one way to learn Greek. Also be sure to follow the link on "Portrait of a Greek Teacher."

Monday, June 18, 2007

Yet Another Classic Jones!

I commented in a recent post (on a game against the Phillies), "Jones appeared again tonight, but with a four-run lead. And not even he could make that interesting."

How wrong I was. Todd Jones's outing tonight against the Nationals had so many classic Jones moments, but the clincher was the fact that he came in with a four-run lead and did in fact make it interesting. Let's review the criteria for a classic Jones:

1. Jones must come on with more than a one-run lead so that he can give up at least one run.
2. Jones must get runners on the bases early from a fluke hit or error.
3. Jones must face one of the other team's top hitters.
4. Jones must benefit from a solid defensive play.
5. Jones must give up a run (often in exchange for an out or two).
6. Jones must let the other team hit into the final out; the motive here seems to be to avoid striking anyone out.

I'll spare you the details of the game, but tonight's "relief" appearance met the first, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth criteria. Note that the fact that Jones failed to meet the second criteria is not comforting, since the Nationals didn't score on a fluke; instead they pounded the crap out of Jones: they hit a few singles, a double, and a triple. Note also that Jones did get one strikeout, but the last hitter grounded out.

But the fact is that Jones managed to give up three (!) runs in the ninth inning before even recording an out. And I think that makes up for missing the second criteria.

On one hand, watching the Nationals' fans getting excited about their chance at a comeback amused me. Don't they know a classic Jones when they see one? Apparently not. I pitied the fools.

On the other hand, the line between a classic Jones and a classic Jones blowing up in your face is very fine, and one is never (repeat, never) convinced that Jones won't actually choke (as he did against the Indians on June 1).

If the Tigers make the playoffs, and Jones is still their "closer," please just shoot me.

On the good news front, set your VCRs for Kenny Rogers's first start this Friday.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Poetics 1450a

For by story I mean this: the synthesis (putting-together) of the actions; and by characters I mean that according to which we say the ones acting are of a certain sort, and by thought I mean that in which, while speaking, they demonstrate something or declare their opinion. Necessarily, therefore, there are six parts of all tragedy, according to which tragedy is of a certain sort. And these are story, characters, thought, appearances, diction, and poetic song. For two parts are those which they imitate [1], one part is how they imitate, and three parts are what they imitate; and there is nothing in addition to these. By these, therefore, not a few have been used to say that [something is a tragedy] by these forms.[2] For even appearance has all [of tragedy] [3], and in a similar way, character, story, diction, song, and thought.

But the greatest of these is the synthesis (putting-together) of the actions. For tragedy is an imitation not of human beings but of actions and of life.[4] Both happiness and wretchedness are in action and the goal is some action, not a quality. On the one hand, they [human beings?] are of a certain sort according to their characters, but actions [are of a certain sort] according to happiness or the opposite. So they do not act so as to imitate the characters, but they include characters on account of the actions. So as the actions and the story are the goal (telos) of tragedy, the goal is the greatest of all of them. Moreover, without action tragedy could never come to be, but without characters it could come to be. For the tragedies of most of the latest poets are without characters, and generally many poets are such as this: like the painter Zeuxis is to Polygnotus. For Polygnotus is a good painter of character, but the paintings of Zeuxis do not have character. Yet if someone lines up a row of declarations about character, having made them well concerning speech and thought, he does not make that which was the function of the tragedy, but a tragedy, having supplied these things, is lacking less than one having both a story and a synthesis (putting-together) of actions. In addition to these, the greatest thing of tragedy is the parts of the story that lead the soul: reversal and recognition.[5] A sign of this is that those who attempt to make poetry are first able, like nearly all the first poets, to accurately put together the speech and the characters more than the actions. Story, therefore, is the ruling principle and like the soul of tragedy, and the characters are second. (And it is pretty much the same with painting, for if someone smears on the most beautiful colors in heaps it would not give as much pleasure as an outline of an image in black and white.)

[1] I'm not sure what the 3rd plural "they" is referring to.
[2] The text of this sentence is, to use a scholarly phrase, all jacked up (from the Latin, allus jactus upus). The basic sense seems to be that sometimes tragedy is identified with a particular one of its six parts.
[3] This phrase = a.j.u.
[4] Christ's text includes an extra kakodaimonias ("wretchedness") after biou ("life"). A variant excises it. I followed the variant because I wouldn't know what to do with an extra kakodaimonias.
[5] From LSJ, peripeteia = "sudden reversal of circumstances on which the plot in a Tragedy hinges, such as Oedipus' discovery of his parentage"; this passage from Poetics is cited. And anagnwrisis = "recognition," again a technical term in tragedy, and the Poetics is cited (1452a29 and 1454b19).

Friday, June 15, 2007

Good to See

You know what's annoying? At the end of a televised baseball game, when the announcers are describing the best defensive or offensive plays of the game, it's annoying when they ascribe the best play of the game to someone on their team even when there was an obviously better play made by an opposing player. That's annoying.

To watch the Tigers-Phillies game on tonight, I had to watch the feed from Philadelphia. At the end of the game the Phillies announcers gave the best defensive play of the game to Tigers second-baseman, Placido Polanco, for a crazy-good play to throw someone out at first. And then they awarded player of the game to Ivan Rodriguez.

I appreciated the lack of bias. I thought people should know.

Jones appeared again tonight, but with a four-run lead. And not even he could make that interesting.

And now I must finish my Aristotle translation I was "working on" while watching the game.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Husserl on Science

I read recently of a man who enjoyed philosophy until he discovered that every philosophical "truth" was debatable. So he ditched philosophy for science because he thought the scientific method provided the best way of discovering truth. (I suppose science is so good nowadays that its truths aren't even debatable?)

Evidently, this gentleman is not a student of the works of Husserl, who says in The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology:

[Galileo's idea was] remarkable because the hypothesis, in spite of the verification, continues to be and is always a hypothesis; its verification . . . is an endless course of verification. (p. 42)

And later Husserl says,

In geometrical and natural-scientific mathematization . . . we measure the life-world -- the world constantly given to us as actual in our concrete world-life -- for a well-fitting garb of ideas, that of the so-called objectively scientific truths. . . . Mathematics and mathematical science . . . represents the life-world, dresses it up as "objectively actual and true" nature. It is through the garb of ideas that we take for true being what is actually a method . . . . (p. 51)

So, the "obvious" certainty that science holds to is illusory; recalling the opening points about philosophy's alleged ignorance, I say with Husserl that science cannot provide solid answers without first changing the questions. In Husserl's terms, natural science is a method masquerading as something that itself really is true. But how could a method be true? It certainly is an impressive method, but its great impression does not change its nature. More on this later.

Poetics 1449b

For the archon[1] also allowed the comedian a chorus at some late date but they were volunteers. And writers mention crafters (poets) of it (comedy) at the point when this (comedy) already possessed some forms, [2] but who assigned it masks or prologues or a number of actors and any element it has [3] is unknown.

But crafting stories [4] in the beginning came from Sicily, and of those in Athens Krates became the first one who left off the iambic form wholly to craft speeches and stories.

Epic poetry is consistent with tragedy up to the point that it was an imitation by speech with meter of men of substance [5]; but they differ in this respect: by (epic) having the single meter and being narrative, and, morever, in regards to length: on the one hand tragedy especially because it attempts to be under the period of one day or to exceed it just a bit, but epic poetry is without boundary in time and in this respect it differs though at first this was done [6] similarly in tragedies and epics. But in regards to the sections, some of these are (similar) and some particular to tragedy.

Because whoever knows about weighty or trivial tragedy also knows about epics, for the things which epic poetry has belong to tragedy; but the things which tragedy has are not all in epic poetry.

6. We will speak about the mimetic art in hexameter and about the comedic art later.

But concerning tragedy, examining it from the things said so far let us speak about what became the extent of its essence: tragedy, then, is an imitation: of a virtuous action possessing magnanimity in its completion; by means of language sweetened seperately by each of the forms in the parts; and of the men accomplishing the thing, effecting the dissolution of such experiences [7] not through narative (but) through mercy and pity.

With respect to “sweetened language” I mean (language) that has rhythm and harmony and tune; by “the forms separately” I mean that only some things are effected through meter and again other things through song.

And since those men who act craft the imitation, first then, by necessity, some part of tragedy [8] would be the beauty of appearance, then poetic song and diction; for by means of these they craft the imitation.

With respect to “diction” I mean the arrangement of metres, and with respect to “poetic song” the whole apparent sense which it has.

But when the imitation is of an action, and is acted by some people acting, who necessarily are some certain sorts (of people) according to both character and thought—for we say that through these things actions are whatever sorts that they are, and it is by nature that [9] the two causes of actions are thought and character, and people all both hit and miss the mark in respect to these things—indeed the story is the imitation of the action.

[[Note to Burglar: I went past my allotted section but could not find a decent breaking off point—editing of the post is welcome]]

[1] Archon (Plural: Archontes) from the OCD: “In Athens by the 6th century there were nine annually appointed archons … in the bth century BC the archons and in particular the one entitled archon were the most important officials of the Athenian state … in the later 5th and 4th century BC the archons’ duties were particularly religious and judicial … the archon was responsible for a number of religious festivals …”
[2] An awkward sentence to translate literally: the meaning is that by the time we hear about comedians the comedic form already had its basic elements.
[3] Greek is the idiom: “hosa toiouta”
[4] Staying consistent with Burglar: the Greek word is “mythos” ie., myth, which is a problematic concept to translate into English.
[5] mechri + gen = measure or degree: “in so far as; up to the point that”; end of sentence the text has been significantly disputed, I followed R. Kassel, Oxford, 1965: “mechri men tou meta metrou logwi mimesis” because it was the only rendition that made sense to me—which does not necessarily imply it is the correct rendition! Also, I think I have translated “spoudaios” differently every time: here “men of substance” a few sentences down “weighty tragedy”.
[6] poeiw
[7] katharsis twn toioutwn pathematwn. Because Aristotle’s “catharsis” is one of the few ideas from the Classical period that you can mention at a party and not get sent home early, in addition to the above context I offer the reader a summarized dictionary entry for the word:

I. cleansing from guilt or defilement, purification [sense used in Christian texts]; cleansing of the universe by fire, [Zeno and Chrysippus]; cleansing of food by or before cooking.
II. clarification [Epicurus]
III. Medical: clearing off of morbid humours, etc., evacuation, whether natural or by the use of medicines [cf. Galen.17(2).358]; purification of the menses in women, [Hp.Aph.5.60]. Aristotle’s use is understood under this category:
a. τραγῳδία . . δι᾽ ἐλέου καὶ φόβου περαίνουσα τὴν τῶν τοιούτων παθημάτων καθαρ. Aristotle, Poetics1449b28; see also Politics 1341b38.
IV. pruning of trees.
V. winnowing of grain.
VI. clearing of land.

[8] I understand Aristotle to be still discussing tragedy’s essence.
[9] LSJ: phuw: B.II.1: “the pf. and aor. 2 take a pres. sense, to be so and so by nature

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Poetics 1449a

So when tragedy and comedy appeared side by side, each starting toward the poesis appropriate according to nature, there came to be some making comedies instead of iambs and others directing tragedies instead of epics, because the forms of these were greater and more honored than the forms of those.

Now to examine whether tragedy is already, with respect to its forms, adequate or not, judging it both by itself and with respect to the audience, is another account. But apart from this then, having come to be from an extemporaneous beginning (both itself and comedy, one from those who lead in dithyrambs and the other from those in phallic songs, which even now in many of the cities continue as customary practice), it increased little by little as the leaders moved forward in as much as came to be apparent to them, and after suffering many changes tragedy stopped when it realized its own nature. And Aeschylus was the first to bring the number of actors from one to two, lessen the chorus, and allow the speech to take the leading role; then Sophocles brought the number of actors to three and allowed scene painting. Still, because it [tragedy] came from satyric drama -- that is, the large from the small stories, and the spoken word from the ridiculous way of speaking -- it has only lately assumed its worthy status. And the meter became iambic from tetrameter. For at first they used tetrameter because the poesis was satyric and suited to dancing, but after the way of speaking came to be, nature herself found the appropriate meter -- iambic is the best of meters for speaking. And a sign of this is that we speak mostly iambs in discussion with one another, but hexameters infrequently and when departing from the settled order of speech. Further, the episodes increased.[1] And so for each of the other things said to have been organized, let them have been spoken of by us, for it would be rather difficult to go through each one.[2]

5. But, as we said, comedy is an imitation of mere trivialities, not however with respect to all vice, but the ridiculous is a proper part of the shameful[3]. For the ridiculous is a sort of mistake and disgrace that is painless and not destructive, such as the ridiculous mask[4]: something ugly and distorted without pain. So the alterations of tragedy and how it came to be have not gone unnoticed, but comedy, because from the beginning it was not serious, went unnoticed.

[1] I'm really not sure what this sentence refers to.
[2] Ignore this footnote.
[3] "shameful" = aiscrhos, which is the same word translated as "ugly" in the next sentence; there's also been some attempt at interpolation in this sentence, which I ignored.
[4] "persona" = prwsopon, which usually means face or visage, but "mask" is the translation actually given in LSJ, s.v., prwsopon, III.

In perpetuam memoriam

I cannot say I knew Father Michael well in the sense that I spent any great amount of time with him or knew many of the details of his life; yet the combination of his gentlemanly grace—they say truly good manners puts everyone at ease—the intentionality with which he entered every conversation, and the solemn joy in Christ which infused his behavior, made his impact upon my life disproportionately great. I offer these thoughts as a remembrance of what impact the sort of life he lived can have even for those upon the fringes of intimacy.

I was to be chrismated into the Orthodox Church by Father Michael just after returning from a year abroad at Oxford. I remember driving to his home for a final catechumen interview and wondering whether I had learned what this brilliant man expected about the history and doctrines of the Church. I was greeted by a grinning Fr. Michael at the door, ushered into his plush living room, and offered a taste of Old Sack cream sherry along with a knowing wink from my Oxford educated priest: “It’s the standard drink at Oxford, as I’m sure you know by now.” I sunk into an overstuffed armchair and spent over an hour with Fr. Michael during which the ‘interview with the priest’ was transformed into a lively and engaging discussion of Christ and the Church with someone who truly enjoyed my presence.

It was Fr. Michael’s true belief in the fact that all men are created in the image of God that allowed him to genuinely express this intentionality in all his relationships and conversations; perhaps this belief is what made him such a remarkable man, as despite his attainment of the height of Academic honor, he would never accept that anything but a Christian understanding of the world and of Life could properly explain anything. Fr. Michael once told me of an exchange he had with a sociologist from Biola University who was working on an article about why so many evangelical college students were pursuing deeply traditional expressions of Christianity in Catholicism, Anglicanism, and Eastern Orthodoxy.
“Do you mind if I talk to some of your church members about why they have decided to become Orthodox?”
“What will you do when they tell you that they became Orthodox because they were led by the Holy Spirit?”
“Well, that’s fine, but I can’t very well analyze that information scientifically.”
“Then I don’t want you to interview my parishoners, because that is what they will tell you, because it is the truth.”
This insistence that what we were doing at church was real-world life-changing stuff made watching Fr. Michael enact the rites of Orthodox worship all the more meaningful—you knew that he was invested in these actions and prayers body, heart, and mind.

My first Holy Week was at Fr. Michael’s western-rite parish, and I had my eyes open that much wider because everything was new; my whole body and all my senses were being continuously activated in reverent worship for the first time in my life. On Holy Thursday, the night of the Last Supper and Christ’s betrayal, the service called for four church members to come up to the sanctuary, remove their shoes, and have their feet washed and dried by the clergy to recall Christ’s act of love for his disciples. I, an attendee for four months, was asked by the ushers to go forward and allow Fr. Michael to bathe me. The revulsion one experiences at such an inversion of social convention was arresting; but then Fr. Michael emerged from the sacristy. Despite the processional speed with which everyone was moving, his posture communicated a state of joyful excitement; he knelt down and with a glance that somehow communicated “Thank you,” he imitated Christ. The next day when Fr. Michael led the church in making prostrations before the image of Christ on the Cross I could not hold back the tears as I knew something of what it meant to be a disciple. It was at that moment that I became Orthodox.

Though I had to move my family away from St. Michael Church and Fr. Michael during the last years of his life, grace allowed me to spend some hours with him just before he passed away. I sat with him while he slept and repeated Psalm 4, “…But know that the LORD hath set apart him that is godly for himself … commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still … offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and put your trust in God … I will both lay me down in peace and sleep: for only thou, O Lord, makest me dwell in safety.” Fr. Michael entered into and out of the disoriented consciousness that marked his last days—Deacon, has everything been changed?—and with a moan lifted up a shaky hand. I sat and held his hand for what seemed like a timeless eternity and hoped that Fr. Michael understood that I was saying Thank You.

Father, have mercy upon the soul of thy servant Michael, for he loved You, and he showed us your Son.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Poetics 1448b

Let these be the matters stated concerning the differences both of the number and some (of the means?) of imitation.

4. Some two causes, and these natural ones, seem to have given birth to poetics.[1]

For both imitating is natural [2] to men from childhood--they differ from the other animals in that [man] is the greatest imitator and he crafts his first acquisitions of knowledge [3] through imitation--and also all men delight in imitations.

And the proof of this is what happens in the event: for we enjoy seeing especially accurate likenesses of things which we observe with discomfort, for example the transformations of the most dishonourable beasts and corpses.[4] And the cause is this: because to learn is supremely enjoyable not only for lovers of wisdom but is so for others in the same way though they share in this for a short time. For because of this those who view the images enjoy them, because it happens that those who observe learn and conclude what each [is]—i.e., this is that. When someone happens not to have previously seen [the object], the imitation does not indeed craft the enjoyment but [it is] through the workmanship or the color [5] or some other such cause.

And since there is in us, according to nature, the imitation of both harmony and rhythm (for it is clear that meters are parts of rhythms) men developed from the beginning [stage], specifically in respect to these things, and progressing little by little, they produced the poetic work from their experimentations[6]; for the more distinguished [poets] imitated excellent deeds and the deeds of those sorts of men, while those of a poorer rate the deeds of petty men [7] at first crafting censorious works, just as the others [crafted] praises and encomia.

While we can mention this sort of poetic work of not one of those prior to Homer, though it is likely there were many, after Homer (for example his Margites and other such sorts of poetical works) there are those beginning with whom the connected iambic meter came—on account of which it is now called “iambic”, because in this meter they “iambicized” (lampooned) each other. Some of the ancients also originated heroic meters and some iambics; and just as Homer was ‘the poet’ in respect to the most weighty matters (because he crafted well but also because he crafted dramatic imitations) so thus he was also the first one who displayed the dramatic poetic forms of comedy, not satirically but humorously; for the Margites has an analogy: as the Iliad and the Odyssey are to tragedies, so is this work to comedies.

[1] “poetics” for the abstract noun “poetikh” as that seems to be general enough to insinuate more than English poesy.
[2] the adjective is a compound (literally “with nature”) that also means, “innate, inborn, inbred.”
[3] Yes this is awkward -- here again I could be accused of overtranslation as “acquisitions of knowledge” is simply one word that is often translated simply as “education” or “lessons” and who “crafts an acquisition”? However, the verb is in the middle voice and I wanted to get across the idea that men ‘make the lessons’ for (or ‘teach’) themselves; simply saying ‘educate’ or ‘learn’ here implies for us a classroom, pedagogical setting, whereas Aristotle is speaking of the nature of man: on his own he is an ‘imitator’ from the first, this is how he learns, and he does it by that same crafting (poiew—the verb that this whole treatise is on) that he uses to make poetical works.
[4] The point is clear, but I really don’t know what this means. Does he mean snake molting and the rotting of corpses?
[5] “superficial appearance”
[6] could also be “impromptus” which resonates with the mention of “rhythm” and “harmony” above, but that English word is understood too exclusively musically, for Ar. clearly understands poetry in general (playwriting verse, etc.) as well as instrument-craft.
[7] here the contrast in the deeds is phaulos and kalos instead of phaulos with spoudaios as above (1448a, section 2, see Burglar’s note #1). If there are objections an aristocratic tone I refer the reader to the Politics.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Never Miss an Opportunity to Slag Those Dumb Medievals

In the ongoing record of medieval-bashing, I add Exhibit #753, from the otherwise stellar book, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap--And Others Don't, by Jim Collins. In this passage, Collins is trying to explain why he didn't want his research team to concern itself with analyzing the leadership of companies that went from good to great:

To use an analogy, the "Leadership is the answer to everything" perspective is the modern equivalent of the "God is the answer to everything" perspective that held back our scientific understanding of the physical world in the Dark Ages. In the 1500s, people ascribed all events they didn't understand to God. Why did the crops fail? God did it. Why did we have an earthquake? God did it. What holds the planets in place? God. But with the Enlightenment, we began the search for a more scientific understanding -- physics, chemistry, biology, and so forth. Not that we became atheists, but we gained a deeper understanding about how the universe ticks.

Similarly, every time we attribute everything to "Leadership," we're no different from people in the 1500s. We're simply admitting our ignorance. Not that we should become leadership atheists (leadership does matter), but every time we throw our hands up in frustration -- reverting back to "Well, the answer must be Leadership!" -- we prevent ourselves from gaining deeper, more scientific understanding about what makes great companies tick.

How many things are wrong with this passage? Oh, a lot.

(1) The Dark Ages: specifically the time without an emperor of either Roman or Holy Roman character, so 476-800; more generally, it could refer to 500-1000. Collins refers to the 1500s.

(2) So let's take Collins up on the 1500s. Some scientific things done in the 1500s: invention of the watch, Copernicus posits heliocentrism, Paracelsus publishes the first manual of surgery, Olaus Magnus produced a map of the world, Michael Servetus discovers the pulmonary circulation of the blood, etc., etc., etc.

(3) But maybe Collins didn't mean the 1500s (though he mentions it specifically twice). Maybe he meant the genuine Dark Ages. Now just consider this claim: "In the [Dark Ages], people ascribed all events they didn't understand to God." Really? That's just an enormous claim to make. Also, maybe the Dark Ages didn't produce any good "science" because there was no civilization. Why wasn't there civilization? Barbarians. Why were there barbarians? No more Roman empire. Why no Roman empire? A long story, but St. Augustine's answer was, "Don't blame the Christians for your stupid mistakes" (see City of God). So if I have to attribute a main cause to lack of scientific progress in the Dark Ages, I'm going with "Lack of civilization" not a preternatural desire on the part of everyone to say "God did it."

(4) The claim that assuming "God did it" holds back "science." Notice the complete absence of evidence. But that's the point of this whole example: "Isn't it obvious that saying 'God did it' holds back science? I mean, look what happened in the Dark Ages?" And though we don't have to be "atheists," according to Collins, our scientific understanding of the world is hindered by a certain belief in God. Question: Which matters more, scientific understanding or knowledge of God? Of course, you say, a false dichotomy. True! But when push comes to shove, if Collins is right about belief in God (in certain contexts) holding back science, then one will have to choose.

(5) There's a certain tension in the passage. Collins says that the Dark Agers said God did everything they didn't understand. In the Leadership (note the consistent capital letter) analogy, he says that "every time we throw our hands up in frustration -- reverting back to . . . ." But Collins's characterization of the Dark Ages is that people weren't throwing up their hands in frustration; they were gladly throwing up their hands, inviting the God explanation.

(6) I suppose the worst thing about this passage is that it was actually printed. And by that I mean that it had to pass through the hands of a number readers and professional editors; I'd guess at least ten for a publisher the size of HarperCollins. And no one thought to say, "You know, your analogy about God and Leadership depends on a caricature of belief in God."

(7) A large claim of my own. One reason the science of the Enlightenment exploded was because of the background assumption that the universe is orderly, which itself depends on the existence of God. (Not until Darwin (1800s) do we get a real challenge to that assumption.)

Leaving the abuse of the Dark Ages, a comment on another assumption, namely, that there can be and should be scientific understanding of "what makes companies tick." I suppose that assumption depends on what is meant by "scientific." There is no doubt that Collins and his team did an immense amount of research for his book. But here's a claim: Everything Collins says in his book can be derived from Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics. His points about ego, friendship, hard work, common sense, character, all of it.

Question: Is Collins's understanding of what makes companies tick "deeper" than Aristotle's?

The Virtues of The Homemade Bird Singer

I have recently and unaccountably become interested in children's literature (perhaps as a follow up to finally reading the Harry Potter series) which has led to an interest in handbooks for children. I recently discovered Daniel Carter Beard's 1906 classic The American Boys Handy Book: What to do and How to do it, which I was lucky enough to find as a used hardcover copy (Published in Japan in 1971!). D.C. Beard is most famous for his instrumental role in forming the Boy Scouts of America, but was also a successful and well known artist and illustrator during his earlier life. The height of his artistic success was also his downfall, as he illustrated Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court to so flagrantly indict the 'robber baron industrialists' of his day that he lost favor with the mainstream magazines and serials which he had illustrated.[1] Now we can thank Providence for this severe mercy.

I will not claim to have spent enough time with the book to give a real review, indeed such a claim could really only be made after years of consultation and use of the text, so I offer the browseable selections available through the link above. However, the principle of the book has won my near-total allegiance already. From Beard's 2.5-page Preface (he knew his audience--the weary parent!): "... such a book cannot, in the nature of things, be exhaustive, nor is it, indeed, desirable that it should be. Its use and principle purpose are to stimulate the inventive faculties in boys, to bring them face to face with practical emergencies when no book can supply the place of their own common sense and the exercise of personal intelligence and ingenuity ... nor is the volume, as is too often the case with this class of books, only to be made use of by lads with an almost unlimited supply of money at their disposal. ... The author would also suggest to parents and guardians that money spent on fancy sporting apparatus, toys, etc., would be better spent upon tools and appliances. Let boys make their own kites and bows and arrows; they will find double pleasure in them, and value them accordingly, to say nothing of the education involved in the successful construction of their home-made playthings. The development of a love of harmless fun is itself no valueless consideration. The baneful and destroying pleasures that offer themselves with an almost irresistible fascination to idle and unoccupied minds find no place with healthy activity and hearty interest in boyhood sports."

Beard returns to the idea of relying on one's common sense and ingenuity in new and unforeseen situations at the end of the chapter on "How to Camp Without a Tent". The timeless truths in this short paragraph, "Choosing Companions", made me laugh out loud at some of my own vivid memories. I quote his comments in full: "Never join a camping party that has among its members a single, peevish, irritable or selfish person, or a "shirk." Although the company of such a boy may be only slightly annoying at school or upon the play-ground, in camp the companionship of a fellow of this description becomes unbearable. Even if the game fill the woods and the waters are alive with fish, an irritable or selfish companion will spoil all the fun and take the sunshine out of the brightest day. The whole party should be composed of fellows who are willing to take things as they come and make the best of everything. With such companions there is no such thing as "bad luck;" rain or shine everything is always jolly, and when you return from the woods, strengthened in mind and body, you will always remember with pleasure your camping experience."

This advice will ring true to anyone with a good amount of experience in nature, but also reveals the whole principle of the thing: the sort of boyhood (or childhood to take a shot at universality) one has will go far in contributing to the sort of moral disposition one carries throughout life. The sort of boy who experiences the world as a place of discovery, but also learns to "take things as they come" will make the sort of child, woman, or man one would want for a companion. For a boy to achieve this, he must be confronted with a Nature he cannot control, but must also learn to delight in the work of his hands, challenge the faculties of his creativity, and learn that he can rely on his instincts when needed.

It is easy to dismiss these sorts of books as nineteenth century relics of an idealized American Midwest, but Beard was living and working in New York City when he began writing this book: according to his autobiography it was the sight of the overworked Newsies and the listless "urchins" of the alleys that motivated him. Our problem is different, but still similar in kind: we still have the problem of malnourishment, but it is no longer a physical malnourishment from lack of nutrition but a moral one from mental and physical laziness--which if you will read Beard's comments carefully were actually his primary concern. If boys are no longer placed in an environment where they can realize what they are capable of, and unless parents take an active role in helping facilitate these environments, we will continue along the path towards raising a society of "shirks". In case the parent had a childhood that did not prepare them for wood, field and moor either, lest father and son arrive in Nature only to stare blankly at each other and discuss video game scores, I suggest taking along something that will tell you What to do and How to do it.

[1] Introduction p. vii by Charles Borst.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Poetics 1448a

2. But since those who imitate imitate those acting, and it is necessary that they be either serious or trivial[1] -- for the characters pretty much necessarily follow these alone, for everyone differs in character by vice or virtue[2] -- they imitate either those better than us or worse than us or those such as us, just as the painters. For the portrayals of Polygnotus are better, Pauson worse, and Dionysus similar (to us). And it's also clear that each of the imitations spoken of will have these differences and each will be different by imitating in this manner. For even in dance, aulos-playing, and cithara-playing these differences are possible, as well as in speeches and what is unmetered[3]: those of Homer are better, Cleophon worse, Hegemon the Thrasian, who first made parodies, and Nikochares, who made the Diliad, worse. And similarly also concerning dithyrambs and nomes[4], someone might likewise imitate as Timotheus and Philoxenus did the Cyclopes. And in this difference tragedy also stands apart from comedy: the former wants to imitate those worse, the latter those better, than those now.

3. And yet how someone might imitate each of these is a third difference of them. For even when the imitation is in the same things and of the same things, one might imitate[5] while reporting, either becoming someone different, as Homer does, or as the same person and not changing, or one might imitate as all those who imitate: acting and being at work. As we said at the beginning, imitation is in these three differences: in which, what, and how. So, in one way, as imitator Sophocles would be the same as Homer (for they both imitate serious things) but, in another way, as Aristophanes (for they both imitate those acting and doing). So some say the stage acts (dramata) are so called because they imitate doing (drwntas). Wherefore also the Dorians lay claim to tragedy and comedy -- for indeed the local Megarians lay claim to comedy as having come to be during their democracy, and the Sicilians lay claim for Epicharmus, the poet, was from there (much earlier than Chionides and Magnes), and some of the Peloponnesians lay claim to tragedy -- making names the sign. For the Dorians say they call the suburbs "komas" (though the Athenians call them "demes"), as if comedians were so called not from reveling (komazein) but from going komas to komas, driven in dishonor from the towns. And they name "doing," "dran," but the Athenians name it "prattein."

[1] spoudaious and phaulous
[2] arete and kakia
[3] Literally, "bare metered," which, I think, Thorgerson wants to call prose.
[4] From the OED: Nome: "In ancient Greece: a song or hymn sung in honour of the gods. Also: the genre to which such a song belongs."
[5] I supply the verb both here and below from the previous sentence.

General Note: I've always heard that the text of the Poetics is a mess, but after translating this section, I believe it on the basis of first-hand experience.

My Idea of a Good Time . . .

. . . would be attending a seminar like this one. Robert George and Cornell West coteach a freshman seminar at Princeton on the great books. The article highlights their friendship, which is a beacon of virtue in an ocean of political and religious vitriol. (HT: Mere Comments)

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Another Tribute to Fr. Michael

[The following was passed along from a friend.]

Father Michael passed away only twelve days before my ninth wedding anniversary. That number has significance only because it was Father Michael who, nine years ago, married Kari and myself, and only a month earlier it was he who had received us into the Orthodox Church.

What was to become our last encounter with Father Michael took place not within the comfortable confines of St. Michael Church, but in a most unexpected place. By chance (if one believes in such things) our paths crossed in the terminal at the Los Angeles International Airport. Kari and I were awaiting our return flight to Boston; he was returning from a trip to eastern Europe, travel-weary and physically weakened, but sharp-witted, debonair, and charming as ever. One could see why even such a close-knit people as the Gypsies had once let him into their confidence -- though not without stealing his wallet, of course.

It strikes me that the always profound and occasionally whimsical integrity with which Father Michael conducted his life is nowhere better illustrated than in the fate suffered by his wallet. It may well be that Elwood B. Trigg is the only person in history whom the Gypsies respected so much as to retrieve his wallet from a small mountain of purloined pocketbooks and return it. Whether Father Michael is truly unique in this regard I cannot say, but I am sure that he not only observed saints, he helped make them.

There is one memory of Father Michael that is almost (not quite) uniquely my own. Nine years ago I was crazy enough to schedule my wedding on the day after my university graduation. It happened at the time that the Evangelical university I attended (which shall remain nameless) had embarked upon a campaign to rid itself of Eastern Orthodox faculty, including then-Dean of Students, Father Michael. There were a few of us students who were Orthodox, to be sure, but it was the faculty who bore the brunt of the university’s vitriol, and Father Michael in particular. Nonetheless, when I received my diploma he left his seat among the Deans and, in front of the administration, faculty, and entire graduating class, greeted me with the kiss of peace.

The much-anticipated keynote address for the day was delivered by a well-known and popular Evangelical writer and speaker, who unfortunately became so choked up with emotion at the graduation of his own son that he could only utter the following words: "Husbands love your wives; fathers love your children." Despite the fact that I was to be married the following day, I found that speech profoundly disappointing, but time and the recent appearance of my own daughter have dulled my criticism. That weekend nine years ago I shared two memorable kisses. Since then I have loved my wife only imperfectly, and God knows I get frustrated when my five-month old refuses to go to sleep even though she is clearly tired. But Father Michael, who was never married, never wavered in his love for the Church and her children.

Poetics 1447b

Slightly overlaps for reasons of coherence, apologies …

[1] … And the imitation by prose[2] alone or by metred words (verse); and by metered words either joined with one another or a single kind of those metres which happen to be employed at the present time[3]: For really, we have nothing to name in common with those imitations of Sophron and Xenarchos and the Socratic speeches, nor if anyone should craft an imitation[4] through tri-meter [iambics] or elegy or any of the other similar sorts, except that people, joining the meter to the act of crafting, name them “elegaic” and “epic” poets, naming them not from the crafted imitation but by the commonality from the meter.

Thus if they were to produce some medical or naturalist[5] text in meter, they would be customarily likely to name it accordingly [as poetry]; but Homer and Empedocles have nothing in common besides the meter, wherefore to name the poetic work justly, the latter [Empedocles] would be a naturalistic text rather than a poetic work. Similarly if anyone should craft an imitation joining quite every one of the meters together (just as Chairemon crafted the mixed rhapsody “Centuar” from quite every one of the meters), it must be named a poetic work.

Concerning these things, then, let this distinguish the matter.

There are some which use quite all of those mentioned—--and I spoke, for example on rhythm and melody and meter---just as the poetic work of flute-accompanied songs and of harp-accompanied songs and tragic and comedic drama differ because some (use) quite all these at the same time and some in turn. Thus I call these differences of the skilled crafts [techneis] in which[6] the poetic imitation is made.

[1] I agreed with Christ’s punctuation more than Fyfe (the Loeb edition of 1965 that I am using) in that the thought (with Burglar’s translation): “all make the imitation in rhythm and speech and harmony” is the beginning of a somewhat disorganized digression on three different ways that “rhythm, word and harmony” can be seperately or jointly employed in different poetic “imitations”: instrument-playing, dancing and word-compositions.

[2] Phrase literally “bare words” often means “prose”, which makes the most sense here.

[3] Editors have inserted “anwnumos” meaning “nameless” here based on an Arabic text so that the translation would be something like, “a single kind of those metres employed up to the present day which happen to be nameless …” This makes sense with the explanation Aristotle then embarks upon, but I think obscures the real point: the next section is an explanation for why he had to be so vague as to use the phrase “a single kind of those metres which happen to be employed at the present time”—he is being intentionally vague because the terms currently in use (Athens, circa 4th c. BC) are inadequate, which he is trying to correct. Understand the next section as Aristotle’s deconstruction of current categories of labelling according to appearance instead of (what he wants to do) labelling according to the means of “crafting an imitation”.

[4] EDITED. Re: Burglar's efforts to bring my overtranslating back to earth, I have dumped "poetically create an imitation" and now use will use:
"craft" as a translation for the verb "poiew" (as in 'craft a poem')
"poetic work" as a translation for the noun "poeisis"
"craft an imitation" as a translation for the repeated phrase "poeiw mimesin".
This is bound to change, so stay tuned.

[5] I use “naturalist” in the classical Aristotelean sense of “natural philosopher” or “natural scientist” which I think is still more accurate than saying simply “scientist.”

[6] EDITED. This "in which" is a translation of the Greek preposition "en" which is usually just translated as I did here with "in". In the koine Greek of the New Testament, a very frequent 'agreed upon by the authorities' translation of this preposition is "by" as in "by means of". That is more the sense that I get from this sentence as well as the earlier statement it is referring to (see the end of I.4--Burglar's translation: "all make the imitation IN rhythm and speech and harmony"). "In" works perfectly well because we also say for instance a poem "in meter", but the important point for Ar. seems to be that they are imitations IN verse the same way a painting would be an imitation IN oils or IN watercolors -- these different categories of POETIC imitation are separated by the medium they rely on for that imitation.

So, a brief summary of how I understand Aristotle so far: poetic imitations should be so called no matter what form of rhythm or harmony or word, whether of prose, verse or combinations thereof they use, because what matters is whether or not they are “poetically creating an imitation” through a certain set of means. Categories for distinguishing these poetic imitations from each other:
1. the kind of imitation (ie., rhythms, words, harmonies)
2. the object of imitation (heroes or philosophers or lovers, etc)
3. the manner or style of imitation (ie., within the “kinds”, ‘words’ could use prose, verse, or combinations thereof)
Distinguishing poetic imitation from other imitative crafts, such as painting, whereby one also imitates (see I.4a), is the means of imitation (thus the insane frequency of the dative case in these pages). Painters imitate by means of copying postures of figures and colors; the poetic imitations by means of everything you can do with “sound” (I.4b).

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Poetics 1447a

Concerning the poetic art -- both itself and its forms, what unique power each has, and how it's necessary to combine the stories if one intends to have poetry beautifully, and out of how many and of what sorts are (its) proper parts, and similarly concerning the others inasmuch as it is of (the same line of) inquiry -- let us speak from the first of the first things according to nature.

Epic poetry and the poetry of tragedy, and also comedy and the art of the dithyrambic poetry, most of the art of the aulos and the art of the cithara, all happen to be, altogether, imitations; but they (imitations) differ from one another in three ways, for (they differ) either by being imitations in (en) different things, of different things, or differently and not in the same manner. For just as some who make semblances imitate many things by colors and figures (some through art and some through convention) and others through the voice[1], so also in the arts spoken of[2] all make the imitation in rhythm and speech and harmony, but these either apart or mixed together, as, for example, both the art of the aulos and the art of the cithara and whatever power happens to be such as these[3], such as the pipes, use harmony and rhythm alone. But the art[4] of the dancers imitates[5] the rhythm itself apart from harmony, for they also imitate, by the arrangement of the rhythms, characters, experiences, and actions. But the art which by bare speeches alone and the one (using) measures, either mixing with the one another or using some one genus of measures, are until now without names. . . .

[1] Christ's text, which I'm using, has "tes phuseos" instead of "tes phones," which would require the translation "nature" instead of "the voice."
[2] Christ breaks the sentence differently than most. He ends 1447a21 after "technais," and begins the next sentence with "hapasai," which runs until 1447a28, where it ends (with a semicolon) after "praxeis." My translation doesn't follow Christ's text here.
[3] Bracketed by Christ.
[4] Supplied by the eta, which I think elides "techne."
[5] Bracketed by Christ (and others).
[6] Bracketed by Christ.

In Which Thorgerson and I Translate Aristotle's Poetics

Thorgerson and I have decided to do some translation work on this blog. We're starting with the Poetics. Feel free to use the comments to correct our work.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Quotation on a Work of Plato's

"The Lysis is hard. The Theory of Forms doesn't make it any easier."

--R. M. Dancy, Plato's Introduction of Forms, p. 206.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

How to Feel Old Twice in One Weekend

1. Watch a baseball game in which the teams are wearing "throwback" jerseys. Say to self, "Wait a minute, those can't be throwback jerseys. I remember watching games when those jerseys were the regular season uniforms. Oh, that's right, I'm old."

2. Read the list of people up for induction into the baseball hall of fame. Say to self, "Wait a minute, how can all these people be up for the hall of fame already? I have all their baseball cards. Oh, that's right, I'm old."

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Should the Tigers Put Out a Want Ad for a Closer?

One thing I like about Todd Jones is his directness. He said, after giving up five runs in the ninth to the Indians, "I got pounded. We needed a win against these guys. We needed a win for ourselves and I didn't get it done. I just got crushed."

Yes he did. The question is whether getting pounded and crushed signifies a bump in the road or the end of the line.

Be Afraid, But of Whom?

In his post on the kind of person Americans should elect for the next president, Dr. Reynolds states,

In this next election, we must avoid a person with no community or willingness to live for a cause bigger than self. . . . Sadly, the man controlled by his passions who lives for nothing bigger than self is the goal of much of modern media. Such men are always the most dangerous leaders, especially when their corrupted natures are combined with great gifts. In the next election, I fear the candidate with no center, who has risen too quickly, and who has never lived for a cause greater than himself.

Whether or not he's right about this, I won't say. But the idea we seem to have of a person who has given himself over to "a cause greater than himself" is that he is dangerous precisely because he could be controlled by something other than himself. Weren't the Nazis bad (at least in part) because they were mindless slaves to something -- they had given themselves over to a cause greater than themselves? Weren't the good people in Germany the ones who stood against Hitler -- they stood up for themselves?

Clearly there can be trouble with both positions, but if Reynolds is right, then we're wrong to fear the person who's given over to a cause greater than himself more than the person who lives for himself. The person who lives only for himself is more dangerous than the person who lives for a cause greater than himself. But, at least in the context of a presidential election, we should be less worried about fanaticism than self-indulgence.

Perhaps we might be mixed up about this because we don't know of any causes genuinely greater than ourselves. That is to say, in the case of the Nazis, were they really given over to a cause greater than themselves, or were they merely given over to their passions in a disguised way?

Or perhaps it's because we don't have a good model of how someone could be his own man and at the same time serve a cause greater than himself.