Lectures d’été (Sélections de Juillet)

Voegelin

Eric Voegelin (1901 – 1985), In Search of Order (Opus Posthumous, 1987): In Search of Order followed the fourth volume of Order and History, or The Ecumenic Age, by thirteen years; and The Ecumenic Age followed the second and third volumes, The World of the Polis and Plato and Aristotle, by seventeen years.  The first volume of the tetralogy, Israel and Revelation, appeared in 1956, but Voegelin commenced Order and History when he abandoned his multi-volume History of Political Ideas in the early 1950s, so that the former had its taproot in a decade of research.  Order and History resists summary.  In the most general terms, it explores the hypothesis that civilizational development is inseparable from two other processes: The unfolding of consciousness from mythic compactness to philosophical articulation and the “pneumopathological” resistance that constantly dogs civilization’s quest for the Logos.  While Voegelin left In Search of Order unfinished, the completed portion possesses integrity.  It includes a comparative reading of two works that no one else ever bracketed for contrapuntal analysis: Hesiod’s Theogony, an Eighth-Century BC genealogy of the divine order, and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s Phenomenology of the Spirit (1807), which attempts to frame History and thereby to make of Hegel’s authorship History’s consummation.  Voegelin’s opening chapter meditates on the paradox of beginnings, posing the question, “Where does the beginning begin?”  Consciousness, Voegelin argues, necessarily initiates every task with recollection.  This sentence thus depends on a previous one even if it commences the essay.  It depends on the English language, which depends on its foretongues.  Speculation reaches only so far.  Whereas at some moment language exists, in the previous moment it existed not; but what existed then was not nothing.  The barrier to knowledge remains impassable, however, because, as Voegelin writes, “the men who were present [at the origin of language] left no record of the event but language itself.”

Theogony impresses Voegelin through its symbolism of beginnings and its intuition concerning the dependence of order in the present on a proper and continual recollection of the emergence of order.  Hesiod intuits, as Voegelin interprets him, that although the content of the phase before articulation must remain unknown, something pre-existed articulation and exerts its formative power thereafter.  Ditto for the future: Its content never reveals itself to the present except in generalities but it pulls on the present unceasingly.  Contemporaneity thus finds itself bracketed by two instances of what Voegelin calls the “beyond.”  In Hesiod’s story of Chaos, “the first thing that came to be,” the Elementals, the Titans, and finally the Olympians, who brought order to the cosmos, the poet “opened consciousness for the process of reality as an unfinished story.”  Hesiod also, in his tripartite proem, “symbolized… the ‘remembering’ distance to the experience of reality as a whole.”  He did this through his myth of Mnemosyne and the Muses.  These divinities not only remind mortals of the obligatory strictures of order – they remind the gods themselves of that order and of their responsibility to maintain it.  “Remembrance in the Hesiodian sense,” Voegelin writes, “constitutes consciousness as the consciousness of its own story,” such that, “if the present of existential experience were not remembered as a metaleptic story, there would be no story of anything.”  Turning to Hegel, Voegelin confronts a “deformative will-to-power” that “want[s] to finish the story” or abolish the guarantee of freedom in the mystery of the “beyond.”  Whereas for Voegelin Hesiod ranks as an important proto-philosopher, Hegel, in bringing the story to an end, would institute a “scientific system” that abolishes philosophy, cutting off the quest for truth.

Philosophy possesses nothing but yearns for the substance of truth.  In Voegelin’s overall authorship the idea of existence as motion, as the desire for illumination, claims paramountcy.  The subject, to exercise his free will in quest of truth, necessarily orients himself to the temporal poles, continually recollecting the past, which bequeaths to him the pattern of order, while traveling improvisation-wise towards the future, where he hopes that order will approximate its fulfillment.  If the subject knew in advance the End of the Story, it would disincentivize him from any striving or creating, endeavors for which mystery alone provides inspiration.  What in Volume V of Order and History Voegelin calls the “It-world” encompasses what he calls the “Thing-world.”  The pronoun it names the otherwise unnameable beyond in either direction – the somewhat that is nevertheless not nothing; the nominal thing, meanwhile, names any of the innumerable items that arrange themselves pattern-wise in the between or, to use the Greek term that Voegelin borrows from Plato’s Symposium, the metaxy, where consciousness dwells.  The Hegelian or Marxian absolute knowledge denies the presence of the beyond; it reduces everything to an object including the human being, but in order to do this it effectively cancels consciousness.  It thus demotes anthropology, the counterpart of theology, to the level of physics, which concerns itself with tracing out cause and effect in inanimate nature.  A beginning differs from a cause because, as in a story, a beginning partakes in intention, which remains uncaused.  The anti-epistemological project that wants to impose absolute knowledge on the between of the two beyonds is nothing less than a nihilistic plot to bring everything human, psychic, and transcendent to a dead stop.

Yellow Danger

M. P. Shiel (1865 – 1947), The Yellow Danger (1898): The name of Montserrat-born Michael Phipps Shiel will be unfamiliar to most readers although between 1898 or so and 1920 or thereabouts, his novels, most of them fantasies, claimed a market-share. The Yellow Danger, a probable influence on Jean Raspail’s Camp of the Saints, counts as one of the lesser-known of this lesser-known author’s productions, the best-known being The Purple Cloud (1901), a last-man-on-earth story set in the aftermath of a colossal volcanic eruption that envelops the globe in a poisonous haze. The Yellow Danger concerns a different type of catastrophe – an aggressive, genocidal war mounted by a Pan-Asian alliance against Europe.  If the plot of The Yellow Danger were brought to the attention of a contemporary liberal, it would trigger a conniption fit with mouth-foaming imprecations against “racism.”  If Shiel’s biography were brought to the same liberal’s attention, sans the plot-details, his name would appear immediately on the mandatory reading-list.  Of mixed-race origin, Shiel emigrated from Barbados, where he had attended Harrison College, to London, in 1885, in order to pursue a literary career.  He had the experiences one would expect to befall a mulatto of no little vanity and too many obnoxious presumptions but he made his way as a novelist despite his uncouthness.  The name “M. P. Shiel” bore no connotations among his readership except in connection with his extravagant narratives.  The Yellow Danger locates the inception of the Asian guerre d’extermination against Europe in a possibly experience-related incident: A visiting professor of mixed Chinese-Japanese extraction, while teaching in London, makes ugly and persistent advances on a young Englishwoman, Ada Seward, who roundly rebuffs him.  From that moment Dr. Yen-How dedicates his life to the racial annihilation of his barbarian chastisers.  Shiel however reserves his sympathy for Ada and reviles Yen-How, whose “heathen” contempt for Westerners he repeatedly emphasizes.

Yen-How becomes a politician and forges a Sino-Japanese pact, which swiftly swallows up the rest of East Asia.  The new empire communizes itself and begins preparations for a global war.  Japan concentrates on building the world’s largest, most powerful battle-fleet.  China trains its whole population for long-marches and primitive infantry warfare.  The West, in its hedonism, ignores the signs of impending destruction.  Tens of millions are marching in primitive squalor through Central Asia towards Europe, but the European powers, manipulated by China-Japan, make war on one another (Chapter XV, “The Suicide of Europe”).  Shiel’s talent in The Yellow Danger exercises itself in wide-screen cinematic representations of the mighty battles and demonic massacres that spring from the combination of Yen-How’s genocidal resentment and European idiocy.  Overrunning Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean coastlines, the horde – “dancing mad, gorged with gore, flushed with victory, greedy of agonies” – advances into metropolitan France, converging on Paris.  “On the night of the entry, on each of the iron railings in the wide space of the Place de la Concorde glared an impaled head.”  Meanwhile, “at the Invalides, in the circular pit where lies the tomb of Napoleon, there lay a compact mass of bodies reaching to the level of the railings – and on this bed of mortality lay a score of Chinese men and women in exhausted sleep.”  Shiel hints, and by no means subtly, at mass-rape and rampant cannibalism.  When the whole of the European nations lies slaughtered, only Britain remains.  An evacuation across the Atlantic becomes impossible when the American government refuses to take in millions of refugees.

Shiel contrives a reversal when the British, who have kept a fleet in reserve, stymie the cross-channel invasion of their island by the horde and then use their battleships to tow the enormous invasion barges, each one packed with tens of thousands of invaders, to a spot in the North Atlantic.  A vast maelstrom opens and swallows millions into its cold depths.  Shiel’s hero – John Hardy, who had been in the thick of the fighting from the beginning – spares a few hundreds, infects them with a plague, and releases them in Europe, where population replacement becomes absolute depopulation in a matter of weeks.  What to make of such a story?  None of the ready clichés applies.  Shiel, who wrote several world-conflict narratives, foresees with no little clarity the orgiastic militarism of the coming ideological century; he recognizes that ressentiment drives ideology; and he understands the pre-compatibility of ideology with racial hostility.  Yen-How’s empire forecasts the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere in its fanatical aggressiveness and the current Chinese Communist Empire in its crisis-ridden bellicosity, as it seeks to absorb Taiwan and the Philippines so as to control the South China Sea and position itself to dominate the trade routes.  Never mind the Wuhan Pestilence, which the Peking government deliberately allowed to spread worldwide after it infected its namesake province; pay no attention to Japan’s practice of germ-warfare (Experimental Unit 731) during WWII.  Japan and China either were – or currently are – perpetrators in this regard.  Shiel’s story differs from Raspail’s Camp of the Saints only in its implausible turn-around.  Scene after scene from The Yellow Danger could be swapped with scene after scene from The Camp of the Saints.  With a minimum of rewriting the swap-outs would fit comfortably in the two parallel plot-lines.  It is possible that The Yellow Danger also influenced Theodore Judson’s Steampunk fantasy, Fitzgerald’s War (2002), which, despite its condemnation of genocide, could not be published today.

Dodds

E. R. Dodds (1893 – 1979), Pagan & Christian in an Age of Anxiety (1965): E. R. Dodds’ Pagan & Christian in an Age of Anxiety sustained its currency through the mid-1980s but afterward fell into oblivion and likely goes unread these days. Dodds takes the second element of his title from W. H. Auden’s long poem, The Age of Anxiety (1947). An inner vacuity afflicts Auden’s foursome of anxious people, who encounter one another in a New York City bar in wartime.  They search for the substance of truth, but have little idea how or where to find it.  Dodds discovers a similar Angst in the Third and Fourth Centuries, during the time when Paganism began to lose self-certainty and Christianity had not yet cohered as a faith.  These centuries saw civil wars, plagues, barbarian incursions, the rigidification of the state – and, finally, the adoption of Christianity as the Imperial Cult.  Dodds, a confessing agnostic, argues from an appreciably neutral perspective, with sympathy for both sides of the ancient interaction.  If the book revealed a flaw, it would be in Dodds’ occasional Freudian psychobabble, but this is a minor objection only.  Dodds characterizes the four chapters of his book, based on a series of lectures, as meditations “on religious experience in the Jamesian sense” that attempt “to explain the change of mental outlook” in “the crucial period between the accession of Marcus Aurelius and the conversion of Constantine.”  The centuries in question saw a general shift from rationality to mysticism.  The shift from Paganism to Christianity responds to the dissolution of the Imperium but not exactly to a gross movement from one “mental outlook” to another, startlingly different.  On the contrary, Dodds remarks the increasing henotheism of Paganism in this time-span and the debt of Christianity to Pagan thought, especially to Neoplatonism.  For Dodds, Plotinus and Porphyry, on the one hand, and Justin and Origen, on the other, are remarkably similar in their worldviews.

The argument that Dodds draws out accumulates over the four chapters, the fourth chapter, “The Dialogue of Paganism with Christianity,” being both the longest and the richest.  “In this chapter,” Dodds writes, “I shall say something about pagan views of Christianity and Christian views of paganism as they emerge in the literature of the time.”  The major personae of “The Dialogue of Paganism with Christianity” are Plotinus, Porphyry, and Celsus on the Pagan side; and Justin, Clement, and Origen on the Christian side.  The Pagan-Christian debate in this period never concerned claims for polytheism over monotheism.  Paganism by this time, absorbing the Platonic theology, had assumed the henotheistic view that the many gods of the teeming cults reflected a single godhead or accreted around a lesser class of supernatural entities, the demons, who merely served the Plotinian One.  If anything, Paganism had attained coherence in establishing Timaeus, Phaedrus, and Symposium as its scripture.  Dodds paraphrases Celsus to the effect that Christians “were split into warring sects” with “little or nothing in common” except their denomination under versions of Christ.  He concedes that Celsus offers “exaggeration,” yet still finds some truth in the assertion.  Dodds writes how, at this time, “Clement… had perceived that if Christianity was to be more than a religion for the uneducated it must come to terms with Greek philosophy and Greek science.”  He points out that Origen sought instruction from the same Pagan teacher, Ammonius Saccas, who would later instruct Plotinus.  He reminds his readers that “the Emperor, Alexander Severus, kept in his private chapel statues of Abraham, Orpheus, Christ and Apollonius of Tyana.”  Indeed, archaeology reveals many instances where congregants conflated Christ and Apollo or Christ and Orpheus or Christ and Hercules, as though confusion assailed them over the precise identity of their worship.

Dodds admires Origen’s flexibility: “It has been said with some justification,” Dodds writes, “that Celsus was a stricter monotheist than Origen”; and “certainly [Celsus] judged Christians blasphemous in setting another on the same level as the supreme God.”  Dodds even locates a variant of polytheism in Origen’s doctrine.  Whereas Celsus “thought we should pay respect to the subordinate gods or demons who are servants and ministers of the supreme God”; Origen, hardly in disagreement, “believed that God employs ‘invisible husbandmen and other Governors,’ and that these control ‘not only the produce of the earth but also all the flowing water and air,’ thus taking the place of the pagan vegetation gods.”  For Origen the Pagan gods were never non-existent – “they were not gods but demons or fallen angels.”  Origen indeed shares the Celsian conception of God: “Incorporeal, passionless, unchanging, and beyond the utmost reach of human thought.”  Responding to the Pagan complaint that God would not humiliate himself by taking human shape, a complaint that myth frequently contradicts, Origen countered, in Dodds’ words, “by treating Jesus less as an historical personality than as a Hellenistic ‘second God,’ the timeless Logos which was God’s agent in creating and governing the Cosmos.”  When Dodds notes that in its later development, “Neoplatonism became less a philosophy than a religion,” he might imply that the School of Plotinus and Porphyry eventually converged with Christianity and that, in this way, Christian theology represents a continuation of Pagan metaphysics.  Joseph de Maistre, the Catholic Reactionary, inclined to this view in the early Nineteenth Century and wrote about it in his St. Petersburg Dialogues.  How to measure the distance between Proclus and Pseudo-Dionysus?  They are almost interchangeable.  Dodds exercises a penetrating insight.

Courage Alone

Chris Dunning (no birth-date given, but judging from his appearance, 1954), Courage Alone – The Italian Air Force 1940-1943 (2009): In Courage Alone, author Chris Dunning gives a unit-by-unit account of the activities of the Regia Aeronautica in the Second World War.  Dunning’s book will exercise its aura, however, mostly on aficionados of Italian aircraft design in the 1930s and 40s due to its wealth of photographic documentation.  While the aircraft of Britain, Germany, Japan, and the United States still have some hold on the male imagination, those of Italy have never really lodged themselves in a general military-aeronautical proclivity.  The Hawker Hurricane and Supermarine Spitfire have appeared in dedicated movies; those two, together with the BF-109 (the actual designation of the “Me-109”), played prominent roles in the spectacular Battle of Britain (1968), as did the Heinkel 111 medium bomber.  The North American P-51 Mustang still flies at air shows across the country and has often appeared in war movies.  Italian sports cars attract their share of fame, but Italian fighter and bomber aircraft, sometimes designed and produced by the same companies that, after the war, built the zippy little automobiles, remain largely unknown.  The Italians nevertheless produced a wide range of aircraft types and, very possibly, in the genre of the fighter-interceptor, some of the aesthetically most-outstanding airframes of the period.  Italian firms also produced some of the most spectacular failures of war-related aviation.  The Breda 88 twin-engine ground-attack machine, for example, looks sleek in the propaganda photographs, but its power-plants exerted no kick.  In hot-dry theaters like North Africa or Sicily, it could not take off.  Units deployed them as decoys on their airfields.

As Dunning reports, Italy achieved aviation prominence in the mid-1930s.  It sent large numbers of aircraft to support General Franco in the Spanish Civil War.  Italy’s Fiat Cr. 32 Cucaracha fighters controlled the air, leading Italian military policy-makers to assume that biplanes, due to their maneuverability, would remain optimal in the pursuit and ground-attack roles.  Thus when Italy declared its bellicosity in 1940, over half the fighters on Regia-Aeronautica unit-strength were Fiat Cr. 32s and CR. 42s.  The Cr. 32 is sleek, with an in-line engine.  The Cr. 42, known as the Falco and first flown in 1939, resembles the Gloster Gladiator, which it fought in the skies over North Africa, East Africa, and Greece.  But neither the biplanes nor the first-generation monoplanes could stand up to the Spitfire, much less to the Mustang.  The Fiat G. 50 Freccia and the Macchi 200 Saetta relied on low-kilowatt radial engines and, due to the preference of Italian pilots, featured an open cockpit.  Soon after the war began, the Regia Aeronautica grasped the need for new, competitive designs.  The Italian government made a deal with Germany to manufacture the Daimler-Benz 601 twelve-cylinder inline engine, the one that powered the BF-109, on license.  Italy later imported the improved DB-605.  Fiat mated a Daimler-Benz engine to a modified Freccia airframe to create the G.55 Centauro and its follow-on the G.56; Macchi to a modified Saetta airframe to create the MC. 202 Veltro and its follow-on the MC. 205; Reggiane to a modified Re. 2000 airframe to create the Re. 2001 Falco II and its follow-on the Re. 2005 Sagittario.  Veltro and Falco II used the DB-601; the others the DB-605.  The “Series 5” fighters went into belated and limited series-production in 1942 and 43.  Caproni-Vizzola offered its F4 and F6 models but these only reached the prototype stage.

The Centauro, Veltro, and Sagittario acquitted themselves well against the later marks of the Spitfire and the D-version of the Mustang.  The Centauro and Veltro continued to serve in the re-organized Italian Air Force after the armistice and through to the late 1940s.  Syria and Egypt purchased the Veltro and Argentina the Centauro after the war.  The Sagittario had the most limited production-run and reached only a few units late in Italy’s war.  It fought in the Battle of Pantelleria.  The Sagittario likely qualifies as the most beautiful single-engine fighter of the Second World War, surpassing even the Spitfire in the sleekness of its fuselage and the curvaceousness of its elliptical wing.  Aeronautical aesthetics belongs to the class of undeveloped connoisseurships.  The Sagittario shares its elliptical-wing design with the Spitfire and – oddly – with the Heinkel 111.  The redoubtable Heinkel, with its asymmetrical glazed nose and ventral bombardier’s bulge looks a bit gawky from some angles, but seen from above, planform-wise, its lengthy spade-like wings make an agreeable impression.  The elliptical wing disappeared with the jet-age.  Although fighter jets like the Hawker Hunter and the North American Sabre Jet benefit aesthetically from swept-back wings, they lack the classical racing-shape of the Sagittario or the Spitfire.  Claiming the quality of beauty for a Sagittario or a Spitfire raises an aesthetic-ethical problem.  Engineers perfect war-machines in order to do violence, to kill.  But the majority of warplanes, even the fighters, conform to a utilitarian pattern.  War or the imminence of war provided the occasion for the Sagittario and the Spitfire, but the designers in both cases – Roberto Longhi and R. J. Mitchell, respectively – seized the occasion to pursue an abstract sculptural project that would flySpitfires fly to this day.  No Sagittario survived the conflict.

5 thoughts on “Lectures d’été (Sélections de Juillet)

  1. Pingback: Lectures d’été (Sélections de Juillet) | Reaction Times

    • If you were to lift up a pint of beer at two o’clock Eastern Daylight Time today, I should be doing the same, and we might toast one another.

  2. I have not heard of M.P. Shiel. However, his biography immediately brings to mind Count von Coudenhove-Kalergi (Richard Nicolaus Eijiro) whose prose has now become an embarrassement to the top brass of the EU. I could only find a copy of « Adel » or « Pan Europa » in electronic format. Rumour has it, the German Bundespolizei confiscated the last remaining copy in Germany. I intend to compare Shiel to Kalergi, if I can obtain a copy, or unless you beat me to it.

    Kind regards from Europe

    • Thank you for your comment. Coudenhove-Kalergi remains wholly unknown to me. I will not step in the way of your project, but look forward to its completion. Let us know, please, when this is the case. Sincerely, TFB.

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