What Kind of Silly Will You Be?

“The Tree, at any rate, was curious. Quite unique in its way. So was Niggle; though he was also a very ordinary and rather silly little man.”

J. R. R. Tolkien, “Leaf by Niggle” (1964)

I am myself a silly little man.  Also, very ordinary and yet quite unique in my own way.  I daresay the same can be said about you.  I will come back to that adjective silly in a minute, but will first explain that I am thinking about what it means to be a silly little man because I am also thinking about what it means to be a serious guy. Continue reading

Clark Ashton Smith’s “City of the Singing Flame” & Synchronicity

CAS 06 Plants

Clark Ashton Smith (1893 – 1961): Plants (Decade of the 1940s)

Orthosphereans have discussed the topic of synchronicity on several occasions. Synchronicity, a coinage of the psychologist Carl Jung, refers to the phenomenon of “lucky coincidences” or meaningfully convergent events.  There are several orders of synchronicity.  The one that I want to discuss in the following paragraphs is of a low order, but it serves to illustrate my conviction that we live, not merely in a physical world, but in a web of meaning whose source can only be immaterial – that is to say, spiritual.  Events of a low order can arrange themselves, after all, in meaningful patterns.  Patterning attracts the mind because patterning, at least in part, informs the mind, just as it informs the universe.  Recently I posted at The Orthosphere my essay on “Eco-Music from Mahler to Rasmussen,” in two parts.  “Eco-Music” means music permeated by the composer’s sense of the cosmos as a finely woven, complex pattern of spirit and body, temporality and spatiality, causality and spontaneity.  I attempted to relate the compositional process of such artists to the visionary quest of the vates, seer, or shaman, who intercedes for the tribe in the realm of the sacred and on the home ground of the gods.  When contemporary composers like John Luther Adams or Sunleif Rasmussen, express themselves in written word, they not only reveal their knowledge of the vatic tradition; they also reveal themselves as trying to communicate lore acquired on a level higher than the everyday, rather in the manner of an initiate in the mysteries.  Listening to their music – which I did, intensely, over the period of accumulating the essay – convinced me of the validity of such statements.

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One Nation Under Two Banners

“The Puritan and Pilgrim stand
A bannered nation on that strand.
This is the heritage they gave
To you, as sons of sires thus brave.”

E. S. Sayer, “Our Heritage” (1853)

Christopher Caldwell has published an interesting essay on the seventeenth-century English conquest of New England, and more particularly on the fading luster of the old American myths of the Pilgrims and the First Thanksgiving.  He was prompted to write this essay by the silence in which the quadricentennial anniversary of the Pilgrim’s landing at Plymouth Rock was this year allowed to pass.  There is much to learn and ponder in Caldwell’s essay, and I recommend it to you; but I would here like to consider a quote it contains from the historian David J. Silverman, author of This Land Is Their Land (2019). Continue reading

First They Came for the Pigs

When I first became aware of the adult world some fifty years ago, some women had begun to denounce men as “sexist pigs.”  I did not understand the new word sexist, but I did understand the old word pig, and I particularly understood that a pig was something I ought not to be.  I daresay I was not alone in this way of thinking, and that a great many men who were extremely sexist by today’s standards, then set their faces against the scourge of “sexist pigs.” Continue reading

Earth Anew: Eco Music from Mahler to Rasmussen – Part II

Joseph Anton Schneiderfranken (1876 - 1943) Erfuellung

Joseph Anton Schneiderfranken (1876 – 1943): Erfuellung (1925)

Part I of “Eco-Music from Mahler to Rasmussen” broaches the topic of the Weltanschauung in music.  By “world view” is meant an adequate understanding of the cosmic complexity of life (to borrow a phrase from Monty Python), the universe, and everything.  Does an artist – especially a composer of ambitious scores – grasp the many-layered, spatially and temporally dimensioned super-matrix of what Christian theology calls Creation?  In the preening world of postmodernity, the righteous everywhere proclaim an ecological sensitivity, but that same time postmodernism roundly rejects metaphysics, including the venerable notion of a Great Chain of Being.  For the materialistic mentality, what can the cosmos be except a mass of resources?  It can have no non-material component.  It can correspond to nothing living — inhabited by spirit — except in a purely mechanico-biological sense.  Now as Part I observes, there is a critical anti-modern strain in modernity.  This is more familiar in literature than in music, but it nevertheless presents itself.  In music, one finds this critical strain, with its intuition of a cosmic complexity exceeding the grasp of so-called science, in the radical work of an avant-garde composer like Arnold Schoenberg, but also in the work of a somewhat more conventional composer like Frederick Delius.  Part II of “Eco-Music,” beginning with Section III, explores the work of contemporary composers who take an explicitly ecological view of the world, but who also venerate Tradition – and it finds in those works a genuine understanding of the Great Chain of Being. Both Parts of “Eco-Music” remark on the relation between literature, especially poetry, and music. The essay continues with Part II

III. A few phrases from the reigning, reductive ecology, the ecology of “global warming,” occur in the much-polished journalism of the contemporary composer John Luther Adams (born 1953), but they seem decorative or obligatory and never convey any essential meaning.  Adams lived by choice in Alaska, near Fairbanks, from the late 1970s until recently.  His music takes inspiration from the Arctic landscape and from the traditions of the people who have lived in taiga and tundra immemorially.  The reader will encounter Thoreauvian overtones in the accompanimental essay to Adam’s Clouds of Forgetting, Clouds of Unknowing (completed 1996).  “Quantum physics has recently confirmed what shamans and mystics, poets and musicians have long known,” Adams writes; and, “the universe is more like music than matter.”  In his related “Credo” (2002), Adams echoes Nietzsche: “My faith is grounded in the earth, in the relationships between all beings and all things, and in the practice of music as a spiritual discipline.”  Adams accommodates Christianity, which Nietzsche haughtily rejected, in calling it “a complete and beautiful ecosystem” although he makes no profession of the creed.  Clouds, one of Adam’s first fully mature scores, draws inspiration from a medieval book of Christian mysticism – and from a natural phenomenon that fascinates vision and activates imagination.  The eyes look up to the clouds, just as they look up to the mountain peak.  One can climb to the clouds, but only by climbing the steep path to the rocky summit.

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Earth Anew: Eco-Music from Mahler to Rasmussen – Part I

Joseph Anton Schneiderfranken (1876 - 1943) Himavat

Joseph Anton Schneiderfranken (1876 – 1943): Himavat (1925)

Romanticism revived, or attempted to revive, the sacrality of the countryside, re-establishing the tutelary spirits of river, forest, grotto, and hill.  As Ralph Waldo Emerson writes in Nature (1836), whose epigraph he draws from Plotinus, the ecstatic contemplation of natural phenomena entails redemption from routine, to which the ego maintains a spiritually diminishing attachment.  Emerson writes: “The greatest delight which the fields and woods minister, is the suggestion of an occult relation between man and the vegetable… They nod to me, and I to them.”  The encounter with natural forces, such as “the waving of the boughs in the storm,” carries with it the paradoxical character of being “new to me and old.”  The renewed familiarity, as Emerson divulges, “Takes me by surprise and yet is not unknown,” having an “effect… like that of a higher thought or a better emotion coming over me, when I deemed I was thinking justly or doing right.”  Friedrich Nietzsche, who prized Emerson highly, distills the general figure of Nature into the particular figure of the Earth.  In Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Book I (1883), Nietzsche gives it to his eponymous spokesman to say, “The superman is the meaning of the earth” and, “My brothers, remain true to the earth.”  (Hollingdale’s translation)  The superman in Nietzsche’s rhetoric participates however in another figure.  “I teach you the superman,” says Zarathustra: “He is the sea.”  If mere man were “a polluted river,” then the superman, Nietzsche emphasizes, “must be a sea,” for only such “can receive a polluted river and not be defiled.”  For Nietzsche, modern civilization has cut itself off from the sources of vitality; modernity lives – not quite the right word – in vacuous abstractions and needs to re-root itself in the elemental bases of the cosmos.

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A Short and Sobering History of Vandalism

“In all quarters pillage and destruction were the order of the day.”

Henri Grégoire, Memorial (1794)

We have our word vandal from the name of the Germanic tribe that sacked the city of Rome in 455 A.D., thereby abetting the collapse of the Western empire and setting an example for all subsequent and eponymous barbarians.  There were, to be sure, many other malignancies crippling the sinews and thews of Rome, and this was not the first time the city had been sacked, but the sack of the Vandals was for many an omen of the end that would soon be upon them. Continue reading

2,000 Posts

We reached something of a milestone the day before yesterday: 2,000 posts.

The Orthosphere has been in existence for 8 years now. While we remain tiny in the grand scheme of things across the blogosphere, nevertheless the sheer numbers we’ve accumulated so far are enough to raise my eyebrows in astonishment: we’ve garnered 2.8 million page views, 1,300 followers, and almost 44,000 comments from readers and contributors.

I am pleased that we have continued to refrain almost completely from commentary on the political news of the day, most of which is noise, or else stupid, or both. We’ll try to keep that up, so that our stuff is more or less timeless.

That said, we’d like to hear from readers if there is anything you wish we did more of – or less.

Thanks to all the Orthosphereans – contributors, commenters, readers, and participants in the broader orthosphere at many sites – for what has been so far a most edifying progress over the orthological formscape. There is much still to explore of that great continent, in all its dimensions – intellectual, moral, aesthetic – much still to learn. I look forward to the next 8 years.

Spare Us the Clamor and Din

“When you find more spiritual sustenance in an empty church than the actual service, something has gone badly wrong.”  William Wildblood, Meeting the Masters Blog (October 10, 2020)

“But when alone—really alone—everyone is a child: or no one.”  C. S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength (1945)

“Unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.”  Matthew18:3.

I have spent many hours alone in empty, silent churches, and I will confess that those hours were, for me, superior to the many hours I have spent in churches that were packed with people and full of sound.  My preference is no doubt partly due to a discreditable streak of misanthropy, but I think it is primarily due to distaste for the dreadful clamor and din.  As Wildblood says, something has gone badly wrong when men prefer an empty church to a worship service, and I say that what has gone badly wrong is the service and not the men. Continue reading