fragments of an attempted writing.

Tremens factus sum ego.

But how does reality, that "holy and manifest mystery", give itself, and indeed so intensely that Goethe would have us reach out and grasp it "without delay"?  Reality always gives itself as something more than can be grasped, as an inexhaustible "light that can never be drunk up".  As I experience a loving "thou" that gives itself to me, I learn that this "more" - which is the very freedom of the other as he opens himself up to me - cannot be grasped, although at the same time I must also say that it truly does give itself to me and does not withdraw from me.
Pieper's knowledge of the history of philosophy is universal; although he never "shows off", he can when necessary hit the nail on the head with the perfect quotation from a relevant philosophical period, thus clarifying and supporting his meaning.  But he is very far from letting things go at half-truths.  On occasion he can reply with a sharply resounding "no!" and thus brand himself as one of the Untimely Inopportunes.  This, he does, for instance, when responding to Descartes' and Bacon's concept of philosophy.  Pieper clearly says no to these thinkers' view that philosophy ought to "make us into lords and possessors of nature" and that philosophical theory should be measured by the praxis that produces it.  Pieper obviously does not mean that man should not create but that he should create only once he has received.  Otherwise man consistently ends up in the atheism that results from his putting himself in the place of the Creator God.  This, too, if the reason that Pieper must say no to the supposed high point of modern philosophy, the much-celebrated Hegel, when Hegel makes it his endeavor to have philosophy "approach the goal of shedding its name as 'love of knowledge' in order to become real knowledge": and here "real knowledge" means absolute knowledge that causes the mystery of Being to vanish into the dialectical method controlled by reason.  And what has become of this demonic reaching for divine knowledge in the case of our contemporary post-Hegelians?  Either the empty rattling of word play [Logistik], or a hermetic whispering about hermeneutics, or what ultimately becomes the bourgeois subjugation of knowledge under the state (Hegel), under the people (Hitler), or under society and the economy (Marx, Stalin, and Americanism).  
When we have reached a situation in which nothing "gives" itself any longer or "opens up" to us from within, a situation in which nothing "hands itself over" on its own initiative and in which, therefore, thought is no longer devoted to the deepest interior source of a thing: in such a situation no opening of horizons toward the future remains possible.  Only when philosophy is a love-filled longing for the ever-greater mystery of Being, an unconditional longing that propels man down his questing path - only then do we have a reliable basis for that opening up of the future Peiper is always calling for: a reliable basis, in other words, for hope.  

- Hans Urs von Balthasar, from the Foreward to Josef Pieper: An Anthology

In recent years, especially, a great deal of what I have written on my blogs has been "the empty rattling of word play."  This is no doubt related to a long period of despair that lasted several years.  The "intellectual project" (a farcical exaggeration if ever there were one) of this blog is now over.  I have exhausted my hostilities to hope.

I will delete this blog at some point in the near future.  I may continue my series on my bookstore days, but if so that will be on my private blog.

 Any future public blogging I do will be a return to incognito.

Peace to you, dear reader.

Postcard (from the 40s) of the tomb in El Golea (El Menea), Algeria of Bl. Charles de Foucauld, who died this day in 1916.

The above photo is a more recent photo of the tomb.  

It's come down to this.

Heck, my mom, as ardent a freechurch Prot as you will ever encounter, after telling me that selling real estate isn't the time for religious scruples, picked one up from a Catholic bookstore and buried the little plastic statue in the yard of their former house, and sure enough the house sold faster than they thought it would.  Here's to praying that such graces continue.  
Three versions of my favorite Christmas hymn.

Queen Victoria = Sauron, sort of.

Fascinating. The place where Hobbiton is filmed in New Zealand was once the idyllic home (read the description in the post - quite fetching) of the native Māori peoples, who were decimated by the Sauronic forces of the British Army:

But there is an important difference between the dramas of nineteenth century New Zealand and the dramas of Middle Earth. Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit offer audiences an unambiguous battle between the loveable hobbits of the Shire and the alien, almost abstract evil of Sauron. Pakeha readers and viewers can identify easily with Frodo Baggins and his friends, and despise Sauron and his Orcs.
To learn the story of the Waikato War and Peria is, though, a much less comfortable experience. In the story of the Waikato War, the army doing the pillaging and burning is made up not of mindless monsters, but of men acting in the name of the New Zealand state. The place of Sauron is taken by the business and political establishment of Pakeha New Zealand. For politicians, tourism operators, and Pakeha film and book audiences, it is much easier to think about New Zealand as Middle Earth than as a society founded on and consolidated by war.

Out of curiosity, I was looking into the religion of the Māori and prior to this attack the Māori seemed to have been mostly Church of England and Catholic (according to Wiki both the CofE and RCC are still "highly influential" in Māori society today).  There was a church in the village of Peria, but I don't know if it was Anglican or Catholic.  In any event the British soldiers "who drank, burnt, and looted enthusiastically" were doing such to other Christian peoples, not that it matters in terms of the depravity of their actions, but, well, there is no "violent, child sacrificing natives" line of argument to grasp at as a pseudo-defense of bad actions here.  From the 1880s through early 1900s the Presbyterians and Mormons made significant gains among the Māori, though since the 1990s the Māori have been dropping out of the LDS at a rate which has alarmed the LDS. 
I generally try to avoid identity politics quarrels, with the exception of my being quite sympathetic to what we might call 2nd and 1/2 wave feminism, or something like that, and as an old leftist I consider race matters as existing prior to new leftist identity politics trajectories, even if the new left has royally messed up racial politics like it has so many other things [screw victim-hood and its cults - the old left was about fighting back and coherent organizational struggles, not perpetual whining and constant appeals to white guilt and the psychologicalization of the oppressed into quasi-divine impotent victims].

But for a split second I almost thought about getting a subscription to Touchstone again after reading this complete rubbish.  Petit-bourgeois liberalism and its decadent petty "liberations" - sigh, so astoundingly worthless.  Middle class white straight males might veer a bit away from gender normativity in parental roles by being exposed to subcultures wherein gay male parents are present.  Great.  What does that amount to exactly?  Dad changes one more diaper a week and washes dishes once more a week?  Talk about first world problems.  Cuz, like, I mean, totally, like, my mother told me when I was ten years old that I would have to do those thing if I got married.  Wait, not my mother, parent #1, or at least I assume the mother is parent #1, as I met her before I met my father.  And this idea that middle class gay families are going to facilitate the transformation of middle class straight families, such that they will now have an "understanding of sexuality as gift from God" and then de-instrumentalize their own sexualities (because, as we all know, when you think "middle class gay cultures" you naturally think "avoidance of the instumentalization of sex" - first thing that comes to mind, of course), all in the context of the American middle comfort class - identity as commodity - my life the movie in which my sexuality is a tool the Church needs, because everything I do, even with my penis, is, like, meta-narrative in importance.  Uh, yeah.  

Ratzingerian Marxists

"The manipulation of life, originating in the developments of technology and of the violence inherent in the processes of globalization in the absence of a new international order, puts us in the presence of an unprecedented anthropological emergency. This appears to us to be the most serious manifestation and at the same time the deepest root of the crisis of democracy. It sprouts challenges that demand a new alliance between men and women, believers and nonbelievers, religions and politics."

The "Ratzingerian Marxists" charge the left in Italy and the West with having given in to "falsely libertarian cultures, for which there exists no right other than the right of the individual."


Read more here.  I wish the writings of these Ratzingerian Marxists was available in English.

Thanks Daniel Nichols for bringing this to my attention.


I'm going to briefly interrupt my sabbatical today to note the passing of one of America's better poets.  Jack Gilbert died today.

One of my favorites of his poems is this one:

The Forgotten Dialect of the Heart

How astonishing it is that language can almost mean,
and frightening that it does not quite. Love, we say,
God, we say, Rome and Michiko, we write, and the words
get it all wrong. We say bread and it means according
to which nation. French has no word for home,
and we have no word for strict pleasure. A people
in northern India is dying out because their ancient
tongue has no words for endearment. I dream of lost
vocabularies that might express some of what
we no longer can. Maybe the Etruscan texts would
finally explain why the couples on their tombs
are smiling. And maybe not. When the thousands
of mysterious Sumerian tablets were translated,
they seemed to be business records. But what if they
are poems or psalms? My joy is the same as twelve
Ethiopian goats standing silent in the morning light.
O Lord, thou art slabs of salt and ingots of copper,
as grand as ripe barley lithe under the wind's labor.
Her breasts are six white oxen loaded with bolts
of long-fibered Egyptian cotton. My love is a hundred
pitchers of honey. Shiploads of thuya are what
my body wants to say to your body. Giraffes are this
desire in the dark. Perhaps the spiral Minoan script
is not laguage but a map. What we feel most has
no name but amber, archers, cinnamon, horses, and birds.

My friend James Raines had a fine brief summary of the man:

At 87 years old, the poet Jack Gilbert died today. He often wrote about what it was like to grow up in a working class neighborhood in Pittsburgh. Many of his poems express a sense of alienation from the lives of others, even those he desperately loved. He sang his songs for a time, tonight the room is silent.

And the Gilbert poem perhaps most poignant on the day of his death:

Refusing Heaven

The old women in black at early Mass in winter
are a problem for him. 

He could tell by their eyes
they have seen Christ. They make the kernel
of his being and the clarity around it
seem meager, as though he needs girders
to hold up his unusable soul. But he chooses
against the Lord. He will not abandon his life.
Not his childhood, not the ninety-two bridges
across the two rivers of his youth. Nor the mills
along the banks where he became a young man
as he worked. The mills are eaten away, and eaten
again by the sun and its rusting. He needs them
even though they are gone, to measure against.
The silver is worn down to the brass underneath
and is the better for it. He will gauge
by the smell of concrete sidewalks after night rain.
He is like an old ferry dragged on to the shore,
a home in its smashed grandeur, with the giant beams
and joists. Like a wooden ocean out of control.
A beached heart. A cauldron of cooling melt.


May his refusing heart find a place at Abraham's table.  

Because of another writing project, I am taking at least a month off of blogging at this blog.  I'll be back around Thanksgiving, or not.

I've reverted to draft all of the prior posts on this blog.  In December of this year, perhaps, I'll be restructuring my new media work here and elsewhere and don't want to have to think about that for the time being, nor do I want to have to manage comments on old material.  Thank you for your patience.  Until we meet again in pixels, or not.

I love shrimp tacos.  This image might have inspired a trip to Taqueria Guadalupana today.

“With oleographs?” you say. “Oh, what a pity!”

I've read this poem through several times since sancrucensis put it up, and each time I read it I like it more.  It is a perfect expression of its subject.  In it is a perfect rebuke of certain converty aesthetic puritanisms.

The poem is right there in the Collected Poems, but somehow I missed it when reading through Betjeman some years ago.  

It's been a long while since I've read any ethnomusicology, and I'm too lazy to look it up, but I sometimes wonder if there has been a study comparing Welsh and Russian male choral traditions.  Because to the untrained ear they sure seem to have some (superficial?) affinities.

Pew it stinks out there.

A lot is being made of the new Pew numbers out, showing continued declines for churches and the now one in five Americans who don't affiliate with religion.  One thing I see a lot coming from traditionally oriented Christians is the taking of the opportunity to yet again mock the fish in the barrel that are "spiritual but not religious" persons.

Every day when I go to work I get in the car, pass the JW Kingdom Hall on the corner of my street, then pass an Islamic center, then pass two decidedly health and wealth (you can tell from the messages on the signs out front) black pentecostal churches, and that is within a mile or so from my house.  I probably pass 30 or so churches on the way to work (12 miles - Memphis does have the highest number of churches per capita of any city in the country).  Sometimes I take an alternative route which runs me by 15 different churches than the usual route.  So let's call the total number of churches 45.  From what I know of these churches via things heard about them or their signage or their folks coming to my house and leaving literature and/or talking to me, I would rather my kids grow up to be "spiritual but not religious" than attend any these churches, with the possible exception of one of them.

In my adult life, I have visited many hundreds of parishes - Mainline Prot, Evangelical, Catholic, Orthodox, Quaker, Unitarian, etc.  I suppose I'd rather my kids grow up to be "spiritual but not religious" than attend approximately half of the parishes I have visited in my adult life, and that includes some particularly disordered Catholic and Orthodox ones.

Of all the bosses I've had in my life, the worst have been the practicing Christians, with the possible exception of one who was a mix of incredibly benevolent and patient and incredibly condescending and dysfunctional.  The best boss I've ever had is my current one - a philandering agnostic who brags about the number of abortions he paid for when he was in the local rich kid Evangelical high school.  The "spiritual but not religious" bosses I've had have generally been level headed and competent and fair.  My wife's best boss ever is a liberal Catholic - one of those most trad and conservative Catholics I know would rather not be in the RCC and one who sounds, when she talks about faith matters, like she is "spiritual and not religious"  -- she likes to "thank the universe" for things and send out "positive energy" and so forth.    Every Prot Christian my wife has ever worked for has been a royal pain in the ass.  So was the one Orthodox boss she briefly had (though that doesn't really count because he was a convert and his "boss style" was decidedly conservative Evangelical - he was also a monkabee who espoused the most overt antinomianism I've ever heard from an Orthodox in person, but when it came to running his business, whew - then he was all scruples and rigidity and micromanagement and dotting every i and crossing every t and yelling at you if you put too much mustard on the sandwich, and let me tell you, if my wife thinks you pay too much attention to detail and are anal about it when doing a job, you are one seriously fucked up freak).  My wife told me once that she plans on only working for liberal Catholics from here on out.  They drink a lot, they throw good parties, and they are generous.

We've shared this with my mother, and with a number of friends of ours, and sure enough, a sizable chunk of my friends seem to agree with my mother that "Christians make the worst bosses" (usually they mean by that Evangelicals, fundies, and other conservative Prots).

In every school setting I have ever found myself in, the "spiritual but not religious" folks were the sort that were more likely than the overtly hostile-to-spiritual-things or overtly religious to be reliable without being annoying.  Those that made a point of letting you know that they were practicing Christians were, 7 times out of 10, not the sort of people most of us would want to spend much time with, whereas most of the folks I have known outside of more alternative-ish (wannabe hippy - hippies younger than the age of 50 tend to be irritating as all get out) circles who self-identify as "spiritual but not religious" have been fairly easy to work with and get along with and benign enough in their spouting interpretations of life and the world, etc.

None of this is a proof of anything, of course, or an argument, or meant to sway anyone's opinion about anything.  It's just anecdotal ephemera from my life.  And it probably has something to do with why, when I hear the Pew numbers, I think, "well, of course."