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February 15, 2013 is an important date in our household because it is my wife’s sixtieth birthday. I have already blown past sixty and I find sixty-one to be far more amenable than sixty, which for some reason bothered me far worse than fifty, forty, or thirty.
February 15 is also the 100th anniversary of the New York Armory Show, the first exposure Americans were given to the artistic innovations and blasphemies that had been percolating in Europe for some time. Apart from displaying American artists such as James Whistler and Edward Hopper, the Association of American Painters and Sculptors also subjected sensitive American sensibilities to the Cubist visions of Marcel Duchamps, Pablo Picasso, and Jacques Villon, as well as undecipherably non-representational abstractions such as those of Wassily Kandinsky.
Now, I learned about the New York armory show from Francis Schaeffer’s book How Should We Then Live? Now, I know it isn’t cool for the cool Christian intellectuals to acknowledge any sort of debt to Francis Schaeffer and his reactionary cultural analysis, especially after the hatchet job done on him by his son, but I find his evaluation of the 1913 Armory Show spot-on. The world was different after 1913 than it was before. Sometimes time turns a corner and you can’t go back to the way things were. The Armory Show marked the moment when the Marginal became the Mainstream, the Transgressor became the Canon-setter, and Western art embarked on its self-evidently futile quest of finding one yet more convention to violate. That awful harridan Madonna said something similar when she stated that she couldn’t perform properly without visualizing some sexually uptight [like me] person disapproving of her show.
It is easy to fall in with Dr. Schaeffer’s analysis of the Armory Show and its exhibitors until you look at some of the actual art exhibited there. It is breathtakingly beautiful. This beauty makes it hard for me to dismiss modern art in the way a conservative Calvinist friend did after viewing an exhibition of 20th Century art: “It’s all autonomous man all in your face like THIS!! [sticking his hairy presuppositionalist face with its luxuriant Warfieldian beard within inches of mine]” Well, duh. You say that like that’s a bad thing.
A little later in the year [May 29] will arrive the Centenary of the first performance of Stravinsky’s Rite Of Spring. This had an impact on its viewers even more marked than that of the Armory Show on its patrons. They rioted and tore up the theatre. Can you imagine people these days rioting about art? Well, I can easily see why.
On YouTube I found and watched the Joffrey Ballet’s performance of the ballet, with the restored choreography of Vaslav Nijinsky and the disturbing costumes designed by Nicholas Roerich. It made me wish I were 30 years younger and could rut like a reindeer. 100 years later and this is still as sexually charged a work of art as I have ever seen.
Another centenary last year passed me by. April 15, the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. Despite what you think of James Cameron’s blockbuster romance based on this disaster, one scene in it struck me as particularly iconic. It is, of course, the shot of Rose and Jack at the prow of the ship, with Rose’s arms extended cruciform and Jack embracing her waist, flying into the setting sun with the wind in their hair. ‘Yeah, there’s 20th century man for you, I thought, ‘Beautiful as an angel, dumb as a stump, trusting blindly in your machines and heading straight for an iceberg.’
The rooster always crows three times. The survivors of the Titanic, the viewers of the Armory Show, and the rioters at the Ballet Russe had one final outrage awaiting for them the next year, a Centenary which is bearing down on us and demanding our contemplation; the Cotillion of Mars, the self-mastication of Europe, the outbreak of the Great War.
It cost the Great War to begin the breakdown of the epistemological hubris of Europe, which price we are still paying, with interest.
We dream, let us say, a sequence of persons, places and events whose casual linkages reside not in some ‘deep comprehension’ of those persons places or events, but instead are found in the empirical surfaces of the dream. [The dreamer] plainly understand[s], in the dream, how one event causes another. and how, possibly absurdly, two or more events are connected because the first is causing the next ones to occur; moreover, as the dream unfolds, [the dreamer] plainly sees how the whole chain of causation is leading to some conclusive event X; some denouement of the dream’s entire system of cause and effect. Let us call this conclusive event X, and let us say that X occurred because of some previous event T which, in turn, was caused by S, whose cause was RE and so on; going from effect to cause, from latter to prior, from present to past, until we arrive at the dream’s starting point, usually some insignificant event A; and it is this event that is understood in the dream as the first cause of the entire system. But what about the tine external stimulus, the quick sharp noise, the brief ray of light? To waking consciousness, this external stimulus is experienced as the cause of the whole causally interlocked system in which persons, places, and events arose in the dream. Let us call this external cause Ω.
Now, what makes the dreamer awaken? When we look at this question from the point of view of the waking consciousness, we might say that it is Ω (the noise or the light) that awakens us. From within the dream, however, it is plainly the conclusive dream event X – the denouement – that, precisely because it ends the dream, awakens us. Taken together, we see that Ω and X almost perfectly coincide in such a way that the dreamed content and the wakened cause are one and the same. This coincidence is usually so exact that we never even wonder about the relation between X and Ω; Ω is obviously a “dream paraphrase” of some external stimulus invading our dream from without.
For example, I dream that a pistol has gone off, and in the room near me someone is actually shot, or someone has slammed a door. So there is no doubt that the dream was accidental; of course the pistol shot in the dream is a spiritual echo of a shot in the outer world. The two shots are, if you wish, the double perception – by the dreaming ear and by the sober ear – of the same physical process. If in a dream I should see a multitude of fragrant flowers at the very moment that someone puts a bottle of perfume under my nose, it is wholly unnatural to think that the coincidence of the two fragrances (the flowers’ in the dream and the perfume’s in the waking world) is accidental. Or I dream that someone is strangling me and wake in horror to find that a pillow has fallen over my face.
Or take the famous dream outlined in the psychology texts. In this one the dreamer experiences the French Revolution, participating in the very beginnings of the Revolution and – for over a year inside the dream – goes through a long, complicated series of adventures; persecution, pursuit, terror, the execution of the King, and so on. Finally, the dreamer is arrested with the Girondists, , thrown into prison, then condemned by the Revolutionary council to die. The wagon rolls through the streets to the guillotine; and he is taken from the wagon and his head is firmly placed on the headrest, and then the guillotine blade falls heavily onto his neck; and he awakens in horror.
It is the final event (X) that interests us: the touch of the blade on his neck. Can anyone doubt this: that the whole dream sequence from the first stirrings of the Revolution to the conclusive fall of the blade, is one seamless whole, Doesn’t the entire chain direct itself precisely to that conclusive event (touch of cold steel) that we term X? To doubt this total interlocked coherence is to deny the very dream itself- and improbable supposition.
And yet the dreamer found, in the moment of his terrified awakening, that the metal bedstead of his bed had somehow broken and had struck him heavily upon his bare neck. We cannot doubt the whole coherence of his dream from the first stirrings of the Revolution (A) to the the falling of the guillotine blade (X). Equally, we cannot doubt that the sensation of the blade (X) and the touch of the metal (Ω) are the very same event; but perceived by different orders of consciousness; dreamed and wakened.
Thus, while X is a refelction of Ω in the imagery of the dream, it is clearly not some deus ex machina with no connection to the dream’s internal logic of events, some alien intruder that senselessly terminates the stream of inner imagery. No, X is a true resolution. It genuinely concludes the dream. None of this would be extraordinary if the touch of the bedstead (Ω) had awakened the sleeper and if in the instant of his awakening had been enfolded by the symbolic image of the touch , and if this symbolic image had subsequently unfolded into a dream of sufficient length. But no, it is the external cause Ω which is the cause of the entire dream. Thus, in daylight consciousness and according to the scheme of daylight causation, this event Ω, the bedstead falling on the dreamer’s neck should precede the first stirrings of the Revolution (A), but in the dreaming time, it happens inside out, and cause X appears not prior to all the consequences of A, and of all the entire sequence of consequences b,c,d..r.s.t) that follow thereupon, but following it, concluding the whole sequence determining it not as its efficient cause but as its final cause, its τέλος.
Thus, time in dream runs, and acceleratedly runs, towards the actual and against the movement of time, when we think in the Kantian sense of time, in the waking consciousness. Dream time is turned inside out. The very same event that is perceived from actual space as actual is seen from imaginary space as imaginary, i.e. as occurring before everything else in teleological time, as the goal or object of our purposefulness. Contrarily, the goal seen from here appears, because of our to appreciate goals rightly, as something cherished but lacking the energy of the ideal, but seen from there, from the other consciousness, the goal is comprehended as the living energy that shapes actuality as its creative form.
E’ verdade! Ele fiz ao sol soubir! It’s true, he made the sun come up!
Agora, voçê e’ o Orfeu! Toque uma canção p’ra mim!
Now, You’re Orpheus! Play me a song!
From Steve Hayes’ Yahoo Group “eldil”
So here’s what I posted (or would have had Eldil Yahoo Group been accessed):
You may have seen reported on the news that an atheist organization has put up a large billboard at the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel in NYC that reads: You know it’s a myth. This season celebrate REASON.
A Catholic organization has recently retaliated with a billboard opposite which reads: You know it’s read. This season celebrate Jesus.
When I first saw the original sign I said to myself, Of COURSE it’s a myth.
The word myth has morphed of course from the Greek ‘mythos’. In Webster’s that is “a pattern of beliefs expressing often symbolically the characteristic or prevalent attitudes in a group or culture.”
I’m sure Steve could provide a better definition or meaning of the Greek word. The word myth today most often in the secular world is used to mean an unfounded or false notion, a thing having only an imaginary existence.
A second comment by the same commenter [AnnA]
The atheist sign is of course wrong about myth. Myth is real. Myth and reason
are not opposites, or enemies, iyw. Every human holds to both, sometimes at the
same time. Even the atheist holds the myth of physics- indeed much of he/she
calls science, the myths of history, etc. If one hasn’t seen it, or is unable
to fully intellectualize it (such as pain, evil in the world, the meaning of
life- whatever) then one has a myth. Privately or publically everyone holds
I am reminded of what Nicolas Berdyaev said about myth:
“Myth is a reality immeasurably greater than concept. It is
high time that we stopped identifying myth with invention,
with the illusions of primitive mentality, and with anything,
in fact, which is essentially opposed to reality… The
creation of myths among peoples denotes a real spiritual life,
more real indeed than that of abstract concepts and rational
thought. Myth is always concrete and expresses life better
than abstract thought can do; its nature is bound up with that
of symbol. Myth is the concrete recital of events and original
phenomena of the spiritual life symbolized in the natural
world, which has engraved itself on the language memory and
creative energy of the people… it brings two worlds together
and then I reply:
If there is one thing I have taken away from the epistemological wars I have been involved in on the internet, it is that TRVTH is something of a fluid concept.
The atheists who put up their billboard in the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel are really saying something like this: “You don’t believe the Christmas story based on any of the mechanisms you use to justify belief in your daily life, so
why believe it at all? Using the mechanisms you would use to troubleshoot a engine problem or invest $15,000, you cannot determine whether or not there ever even was a Jesus of Nazareth, much less whether he did all those things you heard he did. So, why celebrate?”
Leaving aside the fact that most people aren’t as epistemologically fastidious as a trained scientist, I realize that the atheist is making a claim that “Reason” is the primary means by which truth is distinguished from falsehood. The problem is that reason is not a particularly good means of establishing veracity in historical matters, where usually you have to weigh the reliabilty of documentary evidence or material testimony such as pottery and other remains.
When the atheist refers to the Nativity of our Lord as “myth”, he is making two powerful claims; first, that if there was a videocamera in the stable in Bethlehem 2000 years ago, it would have discovered nothing more than an ordinary family in difficult straits, if that. Also, if this camera followed the baby throughout his life, it would reveal nothing more than an ordinary man leading an ordinary life. Maybe at the end he went a little crazy, abandoning his profession and taking up the life of an itinerant preacher before running afoul of the ecclesiastical and governmental authorities. He was tried, executed and buried. End of story. The rest is “myth”.
But the second claim is the more powerful. It is the claim that what the videocamera reveals is TRVE, i.e., that nothing can be trusted apart from the testimony of our senses, however enhanced by technology.
Now, on to myth.
My mind appears to work in two complementary ways. I learn by distinguishing differences between phenomena and by discerning likenesses between phenomena. The discriminatory faculty I would call the digital impulse and would assert that it is what the atheist calls “reason” and it is a very powerful faculty.
The generalizing faculty I would call the analogous impulse, and it operates somewhat like two people lying on their backs and staring at clouds. One says, that cloud looks like John F Kennedy, and the other says, no it looks like an
airplane about to fly into a mountain. This is also a very powerful faculty. The best writers I have ever read who have commented on this same polarization of the human intellect are Douglas Hofstadter and Robert Pirsig, although I
think I have seen it commented on by a host of modern thinkers from Michael Polanyi to Michel Foucalt. Just don’t ask me for my notes. 🙂
Language, that most human of faculties, appears to me use these opposing yet complementary devices simultaneously.
Now, the discriminatory faculty is amenable to discussion. We can see that light comes in different frequencies, and that the large majority of people whose retinal cones are irritated by electromagnetic impulses with a wavelength of 520nm report seeing a green object. If someone doesn’t see a green object, we don’t assume that she is merely expressing a private opinion. We assume that her visual appratus is defective in some way.
The generalizing, or analogous faculty is far less amenable to such agreement. There is no way to establish who is “right” between the two men looking at clouds, although most onlookers with any sympathy for the two men would be able to see what they see. Culture and experience play a large role as well. It is unlikely that a Tibetan would see John F. Kennedy in the clouds, for example. However, this doesn’t mean that the ability to see connections between seemingly unrelated events, pattern recognition, is useless. Indeed, it is a highly sought after ability in intelligence workers, security agents, and investment bankers.
It is obvious from the Gospels themselves that not everybody experienced the same phenomenon when they encountered Jesus of Nazareth. One of my favorite passages in the one in the Gospel of St. John where Jesus asked His Father to glorify Him with the glory that they shared before the world began. His Father responded, according the apostle, audibly, that He had glorified it and would glorify it in the future. However the apostle also recorded that the listeners were divided between those who heard an angel talking and those who heard a thunderclap.
One can only wonder what a good tape recorder, a created device, would have picked up had it tried to record the uncreated Voice. Perhaps people would have had differing responses to the recording; an apostle or someone equally pure of heart would hear the Voice of Sinai, good men would hear an angel, bad men a thunderclap.
There is an echo of this in the Tao Teh Ching:
“When the good man hears of the Tao, he practices it assiduously
When a mediocre man hears of the Tao, he neither believes nor disbelieves
When a contemptible man hears of the Tao, he laughs it to scorn
But the Tao that could not be thus ridiculed is not the Eternal Tao.”
It appears that the interpretation of this event falls within the purview of the second mental impulse, and that this impulse is what gives rise to what men call “myth”. The exercise of the discriminating impulse attempts to remove this
“mythical” element from explanations of phenomena, resulting in that which is universal for all subjects (I dislike the word ‘objective’).
The exercise of “reason” does not result in “truth” as much as it results in that which can be agreed upon by all subjects. That is why it works best on inert matter, or even more accurately, best in the abstract realm of mathematics and logic. Reason loses traction as you ascend the ladder of the sciences, moving from Physics to Chemistry to Biology to Anthropology to Psychology to Poetics to Theology.
As you ascend this ladder, accretions of “myth” accrue. Chemical reactions are more than mere physical phenomena. Biological processes are more than can be described by mere chemical reactions. Purity of heart becomes more important as you move from quantum mechanics into medicine.
Once again, I find myself at soemthing of an impasse. As Coleridge put it, in order to be able to say anything correctly, it is necessary to say everything, and I am incapable of saying everything. I am sure that if this gets out to the right places, I will be well-corrected, maybe not gently, but it appears to me that the force of Reason is the systolic force that pushes from that realm behind or above the minds of men out into the “shining buzzing confusion” that is perceived by very young children, mystics, and the abusers of certain alkaloids.
The force of myth, far from establishing what is “right” or “true” or “so” in the realm of the phenomena, is a diastolic force that pushes back from the inert physical world, the “intersubjective” world, the world that all subjects share, back into the mind and soul of man and hopefully, links him to that which is behind and above him. The proper use of myth is not for us to discern truth in that which is not-us, but for that which is not-us to establish truth in us.
some notes for Steve Hayes’ call for papers:
I. The Tectonic Plate Shift in The 1960s
I think there are shifts in consciousness. The much-maligned ‘generation gap’ of the late ’60s and early ’70s was shorthand for just such a shift in consciousness. It isn’t easy to describe, but you can hear the shift in the music of the era as experimentation with psychoactive drugs became more widespread and a certain ‘interiorness’ became mandatory for music, especially popular music, to be taken seriously. There were a lot of disasters, and a lot of the most promising artists of the 60s and 70s either died as a result of their drug use or had their voices prematurely stolen from them.
The experimentation by the generation of the ’60s with the sexual contract was simultaneous with, and even more earth shaking than the use of psychoactive drugs. As the baby-boomers reach retirement in the advanced industial democracies, it is hard to imagine that lifelong monogamy was once not just the ideal, but the reality. The organization of human energies within the family, and concentrically outward, the commercial sphere, the state, and the church.
There was a book published in 1970. I’m surprised I even remember it. It was called The Greening Of America and it was written by a Yale Law School professor, Charles A. Reich. It was a very popular and controversial book in 1970, celebrating ‘rock music’ and recreational drug use. It was a rah-rah book for the 60s ‘counterculture’, and nobody takes it seriously today. It appeared just at that moment of history when the 60s counterculture began to self-destruct, from its own contradictions and its own success.
Charles Reich was asked recently (2008) if his book had any continuing relevance. He said something that struck me as being very insightful. Paraphrasing him, has that young people today are concerned about the material emptiness of their lives; I can’t find a job, I can’t support a family. The complaints fielded in the 1960s were more spiritual; I don’t feel like a real human being, I feel like a machine.
Reich said, insightfully, that it is the same system that creates the different forms of emptiness. I will go Reich further and say that something truly awful has settled in the center of the web of exchange that we have been busy building and maintaining since the Glorious Revolution of 1688 which is sucking all the energies out of the Grid, pulling it closer and closer to the Core, and leaving the outlying circuits to die for lack of nourishment.
Since I am not an economist, nor a professional philosopher, nor a social critic, and am proceeding from intuition rather than from direct observation, I can only speak from that intuition. That which inhabits the center of our web is an Algorithm, composed of a mixture of usury and analysis. In order to come close to the levers of power, the human agents of the Algorithm internalize it. The cultural revolution of the 1960s was the last internal challenge to the Algorithm on it home ground, and it failed. Now it appears that we will find out what will happen to the Algorithm when the infecting vector kills off its host.
II. The Emergence Of Fantasy Literature in the 1960s
The embrace by the counterculture of The Lord Of The Rings took a lot of people by surprise in the mid-60s. It was counter-intuitive that a convoluted yarn about small people with hairy feet written by a deeply traditional Oxford professor would become a hit with young people who were thought at the time to be quite ‘radical’ and ‘experimental’.
Very shortly after the initial success of the triology, imitators began to appear. Very prominently, most of these works take place in a sort of pseudo-Middle Ages where machinery was less prominent and technology less intrusive.
This was Professor Tolkien’s legacy. His great achievement was to produce a medieval work in a modern milieu, and he was well -equipped for the task. His colleagues were frustrated in his almost total lack of interest in any literature later than Malory. He seldom rode in automobiles, preferring a bicycle. It was said that he had a name for every tree within 20 miles of his Oxford home, and was not often invited on CS Lewis’ walking tours because of his frustrating habit of pausing frequently to inspect the local flora.
Professor Tolkien had something closer to the consciousness of a well-read man of Chaucer’s time than existed anywhere else in the world in his lifetime, and we are fortunate indeed that his Lengendarium proceeded from that consciousness. If nothing else, it made us homesick for what we had lost through the triumph of the Algorithm.
The Lord Of The Rings as a medieval work stands firmly against the central assumption of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment that followed hard upon it, that reason rather than custom is a superior method of organizing human energies. This was the great conceit of the Renaissance, that the preceding age had been kind of a Dreamtime in which the race slumbered unaware of its potential.
Tolkien’s work here echos the work of his predecessors, the Romantics and the pre-Raphaelites who saw in medieval culture a unity and spritual cohesiveness lacking afterwards. In this way, The Lord Of The Rings is only the latest and most successful Romantic challenge to the hegemony of the Algorithm in a chain linking back to Blake and his lament against the “dark Satanic mills” and the triumph of Urizen the measurer.
In the early 20th century, it was popular to say that the Russian Empire was a “medieval” state, an offensive survival from a ruder, earlier age, like the winged mounts of the Ringwraiths being the last brood hatched in a cold eyrie in mountains under the Moon.
In the same way, the Chinese or the Indians would be hard-pressed to find a “Middle Ages” in their historiography. Indeed, it would be hard to imagine a Russian, a Chinese, or an Indian The Lord Of The Rings. The necessary sense of medievality is not there, if medievality is a conspicuous re-adoption of a previously discarded consciousness which the discarder believes himself to have transcended.
This despite that Russia, China, and India had very bloody and very wrenching entrances into the world of European post-medievality. The experience of the European Renaissance and Enlightenment came for the world and the cultures outside of Europe as an experience of conquest, colonialism, and revolution. The Spanish conquest of the New World goes even farther back. The Spanish Baroque conquistadores destroyed the last remaining vestiges of the ancient pre-Classical age and incorporated it uneasily into the emerging European web. Perhaps the literary phenomenon of “magic realism” in Latin American letters is a corresponding medievality.
One culture I can see having a full-blown indigenous sense of medievality would be the Japanese culture. The opening of Japan’s hermetically sealed Tokugawa Shogunate by the European powers in the 19th century led to the supplanting of a traditional, highly stratified, and hierarchical society by a more open and technocratic one. From what little exposure I have had to Japanese cultural product, mostly through manga and anime, it appears that there may be a rough correspondence between the Western sence of medievality and the Japanese.
In the last week, I have been following an interesting exchange between David Theroux and my loyal friend Steven Hayes about the economic thought of CS Lewis. It appears Paul, whom I suspect of being a right-leaning American Catholic suspicious of governmental interference, found a kindred spirit in Lewis, who was certainly no fan of political ideologies.
Steve, a left-leaning South African with whom I share a concern that the benefits of “freedom” in the market sense have been inappropriately distributed, and with whom I share at least the apprehension that governmental coercion may be the only weapon available to whinge the behemoths currently dominating the geopolitical environment, responded saying that he felt that Lewis would not have allowed himself to be aligned with American Libertarianism, which is an ideology that wishes to extend to all Americans the benefits of that freedom from governmental restraint currently enjoyed by those who can afford seats at $10,000 a plate fundraising dinners.
Mr. Theroux offered a rebuttal to Steve, which Steve graciously forwarded to me in a mailing list, is unavailable for linking, although I hope to remedy that shortly.
I think that the whole problem of trying to pigeonhole Lewis’ politics and/or economic theorems [and, let us confess, all politics appears to have reduced to economics in our darkening era] is that Lewis’ thinking along operated primarily on a pre-Enlightenment, pre-“Victorious Analysis” basis.
I don’t know anything about Natural Law theory, except that it seems to be often on the lips of a certain type of Catholic. I am assuming that Natural Law is something akin to what Lewis dealt with when he introduced the concept of the “Tao” in ‘The Abolition Of Man’, so if I make mistakes in understanding the ideas begind Natural law, please bear with me. I have to admit that the whole idea of ‘law’ leaves me a bit cold, whichever phrase it is embedded in; “Natural Law”, “the Law of Historical Necessity”, “the Law of the Marketplace”.
I would like to bring the thought of another of the circle of Lewis’ friends, Owen Barfield, to play upon the issue of economic thought:
“[Francis] Bacon… was at least among the first to draw the analogy in English. so that in the history of thought, we have a here a pretty definite point – round about the beginning of the 17th century – at which the concept ‘laws of nature’ first begins to reveal itself as working in human minds.”
Barfield goes to to explain that the idea of Law, from the time of Bacon on, displaced the older idea of Form as a metaphor of “thinking Nature”. The older idea of Form, which was useful in explaining ‘natura naturans’, Barfield maintains, were the “memory of those elements which the best Greek thinking could still apprehend in its time as living Beings” was usurped by the menta habit of thinking of Laws, which dealt with ‘natura naturata’, as a static thing “which dealt with the rules that govern the changes which occur in the sense-perceptible part of nature.”
This helps me to distinguish the economic thinking of Lewis, and his companion Tolkien from the algorithmic thinking about The Market© that is so ubiquitious in our day. The Algorithm arose in the Seventeenth Century as a way of thinking and swept all before it. The United States, it is sometimes helpful for me to remember, is not a Nation based on ties of race, religion, or culture, but literally an Algorithmic state, based not on centuries of precedent and custom, but on ABORSGSIARTATBWTAADR (A Bunch Of Really Smart Guys Sitting In A Room Thinking About The Best Way To Achieve A Desired Result). And the temptation is, when confronted by undesireable results proceeding from the execution of the Algorithm, is to reach for the levers and tweak it until it produces the desired results.
The result of the triumph of the Algorithm has been an undeniable increase in the levels of comfort for those who benefit from its application, especially for those close to the levers and those who directly support them. Indeed, the limited liablity corporation and the ersatz personhood rendered to it by legal fiat represents kind of an Incarnation for this Algorithm. The pronouncements of those in charge of these entities indicate there is a kind of reverse-theosis underway in them that strips them of any concern that cannot be quantified by this Algorithm.
In contrast, Lewis champions a kind of a pre-Algorithmic ordering of society, where The Market© digests other concerns besides the merely economic. Novelist Gene Wolfe in a masterful essay on Tolkien says this in a way I can only marvel at:
“Philology led him to the study of the largely illiterate societies of Northern Europe between the fall of Rome and the beginning of the true Middle Ages (roughly AD 400 to 1000). There he found a quality — let us call it Folk Law — that has almost disappeared from his world and ours. It is the neighbour-love and settled customary goodness of the Shire. Frodo is “rich” in comparison to Sam, though no dragon would call Frodo rich; Sam is poor in comparison to Frodo, though Sam is far richer than Gollum, who has been devoured by the tyranny and corruption of the One Ring. Frodo does not despise Sam for his poverty, he employs him; and Sam does not detest Frodo for his wealth, but is grateful for the job. Most central of all, the difference in their positions does not prevent their friendship. And in the end, poor Sam rises in the estimation of the Shire because of his association with Frodo, and rich Frodo sacrifices himself for the good of all the Sams.”
“Sam Rayburn, a politician of vast experience, once said that all legislation is special-interest legislation. Of our nation, and of the 20th century, that is unquestionably true; but it need not be. We have — but do not need — a pestilent swarm of exceedingly clever persons who call themselves public servants when everything about them and us proclaims that they are in fact our masters. They make laws (and regulations and judicial decisions that have the force of laws) faster and more assiduously than any factory in the world makes chains; and they lay them on us.”
It need not be so. We might have a society in which the laws were few and just, simple, permanent, and familiar to everyone — a society in which everyone stood shoulder-to-shoulder because everyone lived by the same changeless rules, and everyone knew what those rules were. When we had it, we would also have a society in which the lack of wealth was not reason for resentment but a spur to ambition, and in which wealth was not a cause for self-indulgence but a call to service. We had it once, and some time in this third millennium we shall have it again; and if we forget to thank John Ronald Reuel Tolkien for it when we get it, we will already have begun the slow and not always unpleasant return to Mordor.”
Please note that the essay by Mr. Wolfe is copyrighted, and the owner of the website from which I obtained the above fragment paid Mr. Wolfe for the privilege of publishing the essay in its entirety. Thank you, Mr. Robertson, for making this available publicly.
Unfortunately, I do not believe that the way back is the way forward. Nostalgia for Holy Rus or the Anglo-Saxon Thengs or even the Scotland of David Ricardo will not assist us in our current extreme. We live in a time where children now consider it a judicious investment to bring a firearm to school, but I do not want to return to a time when such schooling was available to very few, if at all.
What Barfield indicates is that we need to have a different way of thinking;
“The economic life is today the real bond of the civilised world/ The world is not held together by political or religious harmony, but by economic interdependence; and here again is the same antithesis. Economic theory is bound hand and foot by the static, abstract (algorithmic) characte of modern thought. On the one hand, everything to with industry and the possibility of substituting human labor by machinery, or at very least standardizing it into a series of repetitive motions, has reached an unexampled pitch of perfection.”
“But when it is the question of distributing this potential wealth, when it is demanded of us that we think in terms of flow and rate-of-flow, in otherwords that we think in terms of the system as a whole, we cannot even rise to it. The result is that all our ‘labour-saving’ machinery produces not leisure but its ghastly caricature unemployment while the world sits helplessly watching the steady growth within itself of a malignant tumor of social discontent. this incereaasingly rancourous discontent is fed above all things by a cramping penury, a shortage of the means of livelihood which arises not out the realities of nature, but out of abstract, inelastic thoughts about money.”
Now, I will be the first to admit that I am clueless about the kind of thinking Barfield says we require at this juncture. Whether it is holistic rather than reductionistic I cannot penetrate at this time. If it holistic, it runs the risk of requiring somebody to know a system extensively before saying anything about it, and every time I head down that path, I find myself thinking algorithmically about non-algorithmic thought, and thus get myself all balled up in knots.
The closest I have gotten is, maybe, when meditating in a grove of trees about photosynthesis, I entertained a kind of a pre-sentiment that the trees “wanted” to trap the sunlight and turn it into useable energy, not only for themselves, but for all the biosphere, and if I could just ‘learn their language’, as it were, I could find a way to cooperate with the trees and help them do this.
I think another of the neglected Inklings, Charles Williams, with his concepts of Co-Inherence and Webs of Exchange, lends himself to an economic interpretation. Certainly Williams, as a lifelong City dweller, would have a different outlook than the bucolic Lewis or Tolkien. Certainly, a good case could be made for there being different Webs of Exchange; the Chemical, the Biological, the Semantic, the Anthro-Economic which exists over and above the others and which currently is returning evil for good.
Watching the recent movie War, Inc. I saw another example of a cinematic cliché which, as far as I can tell by extensive Googling, I am the only film fan who has ever noticed. Now, if I am the only film fan who is aware of a cinematic cliché, can it possibly be a cliché? Since it appears I have few, but loyal readers, I will let you all be the judges of this.
I call the cliché “the paralyzed totalitarian”. I have seen him now in four movies. In Terry Gillam’s Brazil, Sam’s father’s colleague (and Sam’s mother’s lover?) Helpmann has enormous power, orders Sam to be tortured, but is confined to a wheelchair.
Also wheelchair-bound is José Lewgoy as the warden of the prison in which are being detained William Hurt and Raul Julia in Kiss of the Spider Woman. Together with the secret policeman, he cunningly positions the homosexual Molina to weave his way into the confidences of the suspicious political prisoner Arregui, yet he is incapable of any independent motion and is dependent on an attendant for everything.
In the recent War, Inc., Walken, the “viceroy” of sad Turaqistan, which has been the object of yet another American preemptive invasion, wields enormous power from his wheelchair, and the very earliest movie I in which have ever seen this “paralyzed totalitarian” figure is Abel Gance’s silent masterpiece Napoleon, in which Marat, Robespierre, and Louis St. Just plot together to eliminate enough Frenchmen to usher in the new day of la Republique juste et belle. The actor portraying the arch-Jacobin St. Just fidgets about in his little wooden wheelchair nervously planning the death of thousands and misery for uncounted others.
The image sticks with me, I believe, because it portrays those of a totalitarian cast of mind as victims of their own machinations. In gathering more and more power to themselves, they lose that which make them human, becoming in their turn as powerless as their victims.
One of the emotional objections I had to Calvinism as a system was that I always had a niggling in the back of my mind that the system would eventually eliminate the freedom of God. If man were not free, then I couldn’t see how God could possibly be free. Some great awful necessity, some dreadful immutable ἀνάγκη, whether internal to God or external to Him, would demand the damnation of men.
I know there are a thousand qualifications I would have to make, and I take a great risk in mentioning this. After all, the Christian blogosphere is about 94% Calvinists of disputatious temperament. I hope my obscurity saves me.
Borges says it better than I:
Lejos de la ciudad, lejos del foro
clamoroso y del tiempo, que es mudanza,
Edwards, eterno ya, sueña y avanza
a la sombra de árboles de oro.
Hoy es mañana y es ayer. No hay una
cosa de Dios en el sereno ambiente
que no le exalte misteriosamente,
el oro de la tarde o de la luna.
Piensa feliz que el mundo es un eterno
instrumento de ira y que el ansiado
cielo para unos pocos fue creado
y casi para todos el infierno.
En el centro puntual de la maraña
hay otro prisionero, Dios, la Araña
“Far from the city, from the clamorous forum and outside of Time, which is Change, Edwards, now eternal, dreams and walks forward under the golden trees.
Today is tomorrow and is yesterday, and in the serenity there is nothing of God which does not mysteriously exalt Him, the gold of the afternoon, or of the moon.
He meditates happily upon the world as an eternal instrument of wrath, and that the anticipated heavens were created for a very few,
and Hell for nearly everybody, and that at the absolute center of the maze waits another prisoner, the Spider, God.”
By the way, the movies are all good. War, Inc. is the weakest of them, maybe a C+. Brazil is a B+. Kiss of the Spider Woman is a solid A, and Napoleon is one of the best movies ever produced.
Before I converted to Orthodoxy, I did due diligence on both the Orthodox and the Catholic churches. I attended services in both churches, read the obligatory apologetic works from both sides, and even read harrowing critiques of each church from the point of view of the other.
I do not want to go into the reasons I decided for Orthodoxy. What I want to do is present a mental exercise. Long before I even felt the pull towards Ancient Christianity, I heard a musical production by a Romanian group called Enigma, which enjoyed some success in the Eurobeat-techno 90s scene.
The name of the song was “Mea Culpa”, and the artist produced what he called an “Orthodox Mix” and a “Catholic Mix”. All of the subsequent reading I did while investigating the theology and practice of both churches only clarified what I learned, on an emotional level, as being the difference between the two ancient Churches. Click on the two churches below to hear the different versions of the same song:
Clicking the link should invoke a media player that will allow you to listen to the song. I invoke the Fair Usage clause 🙂
There tend to be two kinds of apparent heretics in the Church. You have those like Origen, Tertullian who push right up to the boundaries of orthodoxy or who even step over it, and you have those who have an insight that is so close to the reverse-singularity, white-hole-that-is-orthodoxy that it appears heretical to everybody else. I put St. Dionysius the Areopagite into this second category.
Right now, i think the Christian intellectual world is weighing and measuring what to do with Owen Barfield. Is he another peripheral, not-quite-orthodox figure who may be interesting and provocative, but who will never make any significant changes in the Church’s DNA? Or did he Get It in a way that just about no other writer in the 20th century did?
What I find most provocative about Barfield is the way he deals with evolution. Now, in case you’ve been asleep for the past 175 years, the triumph of Darwinian evolutionary materialism in the Academy has neatly divided Christendom into “modernist” and “fundamentalist” camps, and how they love to go at each other. On the other side of the Atlantic, neither branch has fared very well, and Christianity is, in the immortal words of Cool Hand Luke, “as dead as shit, but he’s too dumb to know it”. On this side, the modernist and the fundamentalist branches have each taken turns at being the canonical representative of Christianity to North American society. It took North Americans 75 years to get sick of modernist Christianity, but the fundamentalist branch seems to have outlasted its welcome in about half the time. If polls of church-raised teens and twenties tell us anything, it tells us that Britain is our future, and that weekly churchgoing will soon fall into single digits.
Now, “modernist” and “fundamentalist” Christianity split apart at the very fissure point introduced by Darwin – is man the product of impersonal forces working by chance and necessity or is he the crowning achievement of a Great Artificer who constructed Everything We See in pretty much the same way a watchmaker in a shop constructs a watch, albeit with infinitely greater resources and with much greater attention to detail?
As I have said before, I think that is the wrong question, and I don’t think there is a right answer for it. As it turns out I have never believed in Creation the way the bible story books picture it – a big hand coming out of the sky and all the animals and plants issuing forth from it in a mighty stream. And I have never quite bought entirely into the modern myth – you know, where the tiny Australopithecus mother is soothing her baby to sleep in the purple twilight of the African savanna. All of Plato, and Aristotle, and Jesus, and Dante, and Marx, and Lao-Tze are there in seminis in her guttural cooings awaiting only the right set of tumblers to fall into place by blind chance.
Now, I just finished reading the first three chapters of Barfield’s Unancestral Voice , and my brain is on fire. In this short expanse of prose, Barfield turns Darwin on his head in a reverse manner to the way that Marx supposedly turned Hegel on his head. There was no inchoate, unreasoning, unKnowing process that willy-nilly resulted in man’s rational and linguistic capacities. His single phrase –
The interior is anterior
liberated me to see what he had been saying all along. The “unfree wisdom” was what nature had all along. All of it, Plato, Aristotle, Jefferson, Einstein, was there, somewhere, encoded into the warp and woof of Creation, but it wasn’t free. It wasn’t yet self aware. And it wasn’t the result of material processes. And at the center of it was the Incarnation.
Suddenly, into my mind unbidden came the image of Adam “naming” the animals, except that they didn’t look like they did now. They came as motile undifferentiated arrangements of protoplasm, kind of like what we imagine stem cells to be, and as Adam sang the incantations over them, the tiger grew long of tooth and claw, the hare long of ear and hind leg, the hound keen of snout, and the hawk keen of eye and swift of wing. This Barfield calls “original participation”, before man was aware of any schism between himself and the exterior world. Then came the Fall, and the long painful process of individuation whereby man grew more and more of himself as a subject apart from an objective nature, reaching its apex in the modern physicist’s awareness that the ultimate object of analysis is likely to be of zero mass and infinite velocity. In other words, it doesn’t exist at all.
Here is where Barfield inserts the Incarnation. At a pivotal point in St. John’s gospel, “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God”, binds himself with a towel and washes his disciples’ feet, instituting the Eucharistic supper. In this way, Christ attaches strong elastic bands to our nature, running pell-mell towards individuation and atomization, towards non-existence, and brings it back to what Barfield calls “final participation”, yet chastened, humbled, and ready for service now rather than exploitation.
Phew – there you have it. For some reason it would not have made such an impact on me if I hadn’t just finished reading Archimandrite Sophrony’s life of St. Silhouan, especially what he said about the Saint being that towards which nature intended, all of Creation rejoicing to become a saint in the saint – the air he breathes rejoicing to be expired in prayer, the wheat rejoicing to nourish his sinews, the very birds of the air rejoicing to be observed by him.
Maybe you can see now why I don’t want to surrender Barfield to the New Agers, who have made much more commerce with his ideas than have Christians. Not only is he a good point of contact, but I don’t think he properly belongs to any group who doesn’t put Christ as defined at Nicea and Chalcedon at the center.
Optimism has been in short supply around here recently. There are no end of things to worry yourself sick about; Peak Oil, water depletion, Global Warming, the emergence of new and exotic diseases and resistant forms of old ones. The list goes on and on. We don’t know what the carrying capacity is of this Earth, and the idea of finding out, as we have in the past, by trial and error, doesn’t appeal to me.
For the majority of my adult life, I believed that the Rapture would be God’s provision against all of this. If you’ve been living under a rock since the 1970s, “the Rapture” refers to a belief that is all but universal among Evangelical Christians that the world will continue to get worse and worse until Jesus decides that he’s had enough and takes the really real good Christians to Heaven while He cleans the clock of the snuff-dippers, gamblers, whore-mongers, cynics, smart-assed news reporters, haughty secular humanists and anyone else who never Accepted Jesus Christ as their Personal Savior.
For obvious reasons, this idea that Jesus will give us a brand new shiny Earth to play with after we have used up the old one has a strong appeal to Americans. However, I don’t know where people are getting the idea that Jesus is going to come and rescue them so they can drive their minivans right on up to the Pearly Gates. Everything I see in the Bible seems to indicate He’s gonna be hot under the collar. Nevertheless, my disavowal of the Rapture when I left Evangelicalism for Orthodoxy was considered one of the principal signs of my apostasy. I was glad to leave the Rapture behind me; I always considered it an irresponsible doctrine, but I hadn’t factored in the comfort value. It’s getting pretty dark down here, and I wasn’t so sure I wanted to continue without an evacuation plan.
When I think about the situation in which we find ourselves these days, I visualize a large mass of people moving down a corridor where the walls are slowly converging. At first there is plenty of room and the mass of people are moving freely, but as the corridor becomes narrower and narrower, the people collide with each other more frequently. They experience each other as “being in the way”, as obstructions. The stronger gravitate towards the middle and the weaker are pushed to the sides. Eventually, there is room for only a few to pass through, and the conflict has become constant and endemic. No one seems to notice that the bodies are starting to pile up and have become in themselves an obstacle to further progress.
I am reminded of the voice of the Scriptures: A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So it is with our lives; we are floating along peacefully, the centers of our own little universes, when suddenly we are thrust against our wills into a narrow, constricting place. There is pain, then light, then cold. We don’t like it, and we open our tiny mouths and complain.
In order to survive the next two hundred years, we are going to need Jesus. It is not that we need to follow Jesus’ teachings more closely, or that we have to convince everybody that they need to believe some kind of ideology centered on Jesus. What we need is Jesus Himself – His divine/human personality with the divinity that He shares with His Father and the humanity which He shares with us through his Mother. Now, what puzzles me is that the pagans and the New Agers seem to be grasping something like this in their insensible way, but official Christendom seems pretty clueless. This is where Rapture fantasies come from, this confusion about Jesus’ agenda.
I wouldn’t wake up in the middle of the night with panic attacks if Yeshua Ben Miryam was, say, the Secretary-General of the United Nations with full executive powers. I could sleep peacefully knowing a grownup was in charge. But Jesus left. And to make matters worse, He left on purpose. Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you..
It is expedient, He says. And just when we needed Him so badly. But what did He leave behind? “A Book, a Doctrine”, say the classic Protestants, although they are scarce on the ground these days. “If we have continuity with this Doctrine, we are fulfilling the agenda of Jesus” “A Church”, say the Roman Catholics. “If we are members of this community, and in obedience to its leaders, we are fulfilling the agenda of Jesus.” But He said He would send the Comforter, the Spirit. But there are so many spirits abroad these days….
Now, Owen Barfield didn’t accept baptism in the Church of England until later in life, and he didn’t “come to Jesus”, as did many of us, because he felt ashamed of his whoring, drunkenness, or violent temper. According to something I read on a stray afternoon in a University labrary about a year or so ago, and I will dig up the reference if anybody needs it, Barfield decided to become a Christian because he noticed that certain elements entered the common life of humanity after the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. These elements, furthermore, were qualitatively different from the psychical composition of humanity prior to the career of Christ and could not be explained as either a recombination or a development of earlier components. They were the evidence of a new kind of consciousness, a new kind of man. There were to be no more blood-gods, no more Great Mothers.
To be continued…
The above illustration is from that most excellent journal, Touchstone, and I have “borrowed” it from an essay by David Justice which was published there some time ago. The two gentlemen, since gone to their respective reward, are Malcolm Muggeridge and Francis Schaeffer, and both of them embody a different stance towards Christianity and her truth-claims.
The article is fascinating , and should be read in full. For the purposes of this post, though, let us just say that Schaeffer defended Christianity because he saw it as true, whereas Muggeridge defended it because it mattered. Indeed, reading through Muggeridge’s Christian writings, you come away with the idea that it doesn’t matter to him whether any of the events recorded on the pages of Scripture ever actually happened in the sense that, had you been present with a camcorder, you could have recorded it.
That was the central issue of the modernist/fundamentalist debate that raged on the Continent in the early 19th century, in England in the late 19th century, and in America in the early 20th century. The question was deceptively simple – “Is the Bible true, or not?” “Of course!”, the fundamentalists scream. “Of course not!”, equally empatically, reply the Modernists. To be honest, the Pyrrhic “victory” of the Fundamentalists, or their heirs, has been due more to the unwillingness of the grandchildren of the Modernists to remain in Modernist churches rather than a retaking of the levers of culture occupied by the Protestant Hegemony prior to the conflict.
To Owen Barfield, the whole debate suffered from a false assumption; that there was a continuity between the world as perceived by the Biblical writers and that perceived by the modern consciousness. “In the standard history of ideas, an ancient Greek and a postmodern American have very different ideas about the world, but both perceive the [same] world the same way – with the understanding that our ideas, informed by modern science, are closer to the truth. There’s no difference between the consciousness of the ancient Greek and ours, only between the concepts ‘inside’ it. When we open our eyes, we see the same world, the same rocks, seas, and meadows. It’s just that we have better ideas about it.”
For Barfield, nothing could have been further from the truth. Not only has our understanding of things changes, but out very perception of them has as well. “The kind of world ancient man saw – and our ancestors continued to see until fairly recent times – Barfield believes, was one in which human consciousness ‘participated’. At that stage of the evolution of consciousness, the distinction between ‘self’ and ‘the world’ was not as rigid as it is today. What Mueller misunderstood as metaphoric was early man’s ability to see the “inside” of things, just as we now are aware of our own ‘inside’-our minds.”