Identity: The Future of a Paradox

My essay on Identity: The Future of a Paradox appears at the 2017 Symposium of the Sydney Traditionalist Forum along with essays by Paul Gottfried, James Kalb, Valdis Grinsteins, Urho Lintinen, and Richard Cocks, among others.  I would like publicly to thank the Forum’s convener Edwin Dyga for his meticulous editorial work and fine presentation of the essays.  The Future of a Paradox explores idea, argued in a book by the French historian Rémi Brague, that Western Civilization is uniquely a civilization that has its founding principle outside itself and that has understood itself since its first embodiment in the Roman polity as the steward of something that it received (namely Greek high culture) but did not create. The essay examines this thesis in light of the Western epic tradition beginning with Virgil and proceeding through Ovid, Jordanes, Geoffrey of Monmouth, Snorri Sturluson, Harry Martinson, and Ezra Pound.  I offer an extract:

The Gothic successors of the Western Empire stood to Romanitas as Romanitas stood to Hellenism, in a relation of secondarity or even second or third secondarity.  When Jordanes, in his Origin and Deeds of the Goths (mid-Sixth Century), narrates Theodoric’s departure from Constantinople for Italy, where with the Eastern Emperor’s permission he would establish himself as viceroy, he uses this quaint phrase: “He set out for Hesperia.”  Jordanes’ allusion to Virgil anticipates the Trojan pedigrees that Geoffrey furnishes for the Britannic kings of the annals and Snorri for the Aesir of the sagas.  That the gesture approaches self-consciousness to the point of sentimentality neither belies nor obviates it.  Now a sentiment, like a father, might be a burden onerous to shoulder, but that fact never divests it of sincerity.  A complementary image of shouldering the father, as Brague reminds his readers, is standing on the shoulders of giants, the structure of which subordinates the subject in a slightly different way from the onus, but insists on that subordination nevertheless.  In Medieval stained glass, the Saints stand on the shoulders of the Prophets; in Gothic decorative statuary, Pagan figures mingle with Hebrew and Christian figures.  It is nearly a thesis in capital letters.

The two images stand in common tension with an opposite image that takes the form of the consciousness or identity that claims, for its own part, an entirely autogenetic status.  For [Rémi] Brague, the prototype of that stance is the Second Century Marcionite heresy.  As did many Gnostics, Marcion of Sinope (85 – 160) hated and rejected the Old Testament, arguing in respect of the New Testament what Islam would later argue in respect of the Koran, that it was aboriginally new hence genuinely and uniquely primordial and that it therefore abrogated everything that claimed spuriously to have come before it.  Modern liberal people are the issue of Marcion despite their complete unfamiliarity with him, and their deluded consciousness corresponds to his point by point.  Modernity and liberalism, in the making since the Eighteenth Century at the latest, and currently triumphant in the West, exist in a second reality in which all debts have been cancelled, all obligations annulled, and the way lies open to that urge without origin or goal that goes by the name of progress.  Tellingly, in its acute current phase, the modern liberal regime has mounted an explicit attack on family, attempting to define the institution away by imposing contradictory deformations on it by judicial fiat.  Likewise, the modern liberal regime attacks sovereignty, the concept that separates one nation from another and by doing so guarantees a people’s rights.  The modern liberal regime seeks, rather, a globalizing borderless society in which differential evaluation of ethoi and defense of one’s proper ethos are criminalized.  The modern liberal regime pursues an agenda of forced promiscuity for the sake of abolishing difference, while insisting contradictorily that difference is a supreme value.  The modern liberal regime collectivizes, homogenizes, and atomizes all at the same time.

Guillaume Faye’s Understanding Islam

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Published by Arktos Press

Guillaume Faye’s Understanding Islam (Arktos 2016) will exercise a compelling power over many readers who, committing themselves to encompassing it, will plough through its nearly three hundred pages in a single sitting.  Immensely insightful and quotable, Faye’s book will inform public debate about the place of Islam, if any, in the West, and it will influence the character of Western policy towards the Muslim world; other writers will cite it, and it bids fair to become a standard guide and reference for its topic.  Understanding Islam ought to be made mandatory reading for State Department functionaries under the incoming Donald Trump administration – so effective is Faye’s prose in bulldozing through the utopian fantasies and politically correct clichés that encrust Western perception and comprehension of the Mohammedan cult.  Best of all would be that Mr. Trump familiarized himself with Faye’s exposition, so as to clarify his good instincts and resolve him to swift action in defense of the North American chapter Western civilization, as he assumes his presidential obligations.  But that would undoubtedly be asking for too much.  In addition to explaining the desert cult in plain language to his readers, Faye relentlessly exposes Western liberal and multicultural collaboration with Islam, in both the ideological and practical-political domains.  Finally, Understanding Islam realistically assesses the strengths and weaknesses of both the West and Dar al Islam in the present state of their fateful clash.

Faye takes as an important recurrent theme in his suite of chapters (six of them – plus a “conclusion”) what one might call the phenomenology of Islam; or, as best it can be reconstructed, Islam as understood from the inside out or from the believer’s point of view.  From among the ways in which Islam so strongly differs from most if not all other religions, Faye singles out its relentless suppression of subjectivity hence also individuality and therefore any possibility of comprehending anything outside itself.  Faye brings to bear on Islam the description of a “locked religion” rooted in the believer’s ceaseless incantatory repetition of scriptural formulas whose guiding rule prohibits their interpretation.  Repeat, repeat – only repeat.  Because Islam emerged in the cultural matrix of a largely oral society, that of the desert-wandering Bedouin of the Arabian Peninsula, its scriptural status requires qualification.  The Muslim has historically and typically encountered the Koran – the supposed revelation of Allah to Mohammed via the medium of the Archangel Gabriel – in the form of recitation, which he then laboriously memorizes.  In certain cases, outside the domain of the Arabic language, the Muslim never even understands the verses that he commits to heart, phoneme by phoneme, but learns of their content through instruction in a local vulgate.  Although the literacy of the Muslim world has increased through the centuries, the habit and mentality of oral transmission by rote and repetition still inform the mental cast of that world.  This fact has important phenomenological consequences.

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Dario Fernández-Morera’s Myth of the Andalusian Paradise: Muslims, Christians, and Jews under Islamic Rule in Spain

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Publish by ISI

In The Twilight of the Idols (1888), Friedrich Nietzsche expressed his wish to philosophize with a hammer, that is, to make smithereens of the false images that leeringly prevent a candid vision of life, the world, and history.  Nietzsche wrote that “there are more idols than realities in the world.”  He wished, with his instrument, preliminarily, to “test” the idols – expecting to detect “as a reply that famous hollow sound which speaks of bloated entrails.”  If that were the sign, the hammer might come fully into play.  Like the supreme iconoclast of the German language, Dario Fernández-Morera, a Professor of Spanish and Portuguese Literature at Northwestern University, has decided to test a certain gallery of idols, the much-revered ones connected with a persistent, but, in light of accessible knowledge, dubious legend.  The old legend of Islamic Spain (for that is the story in question), of its tolerance and enlightenment, and of its convivencia of all peoples, has gained new currency with the rise of the anti-Western, anti-Christian ideology known as multiculturalism.  The university departments of Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies, having transformed themselves into publicity businesses for the new militant phase of Islam, their acolytes, politically correct to the core, have propagandized the utopian narrative of the Umayyads, Almoravids, and Almohads in Spain.  Those same acolytes have either ignored the achievements of Visigothic Spain and its successor polities in the northern part of Hispania or have denigrated them by invidious, non-factual comparisons.  Honoring the facts, which he has patiently gleaned in a decade of impressively disciplined study, Fernández-Morera has written The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise (ISI, 2016), which, with its handsome dust jacket, is nevertheless a warrior’s cudgel.  The myth of that supposed paradise will not withstand its prodigious action.

The basic vocabulary of the Andalusian Myth reflects a mendacious agenda, as Fernández-Morera takes care to point out in his opening chapter, on “Conquest and Reconquest.”  In modern accounts of Spain under the Muslims, scholars of the departments invariably refer to a geographical entity called Iberia.  In a detailed summary of the historical background to the centuries of Muslim hegemony, Fernández-Morera reminds his readers that the Romans, who were active in the peninsula from the time of the First Punic War, never named it by any other name than Hispania.  That same Hispania became a province of the Roman Empire, providing it with emperors and artists over the centuries, and playing a role within the imperial structure in the west only second to Italy.  When the imperial administrative structure in the west broke down in the Fourth Century, and the Visigoths inherited the Roman mantle south of the Pyrenees, they too still called the region Hispania.  Spain had thus been Spain to its inhabitants for nearly a thousand years before the Muslim invasion.  After the invasion, Spain remained Spain to its Spanish-Christian inhabitants, as Fernández-Morera demonstrates by bringing into evidence documents from the period in question.  The academic use of the term Iberia conveniently deletes these facts, just as it deletes the spiritual resistance of the actual Spaniards (the Spanish-Roman-Christian-Gothic people of Spain) during the relevant centuries against their militant overlords of another religion.  Fernández-Morera therefore prefers the terms “Spain, medieval Spain, and Islamic Spain” to Iberia.  Indeed, Fernández-Morera characterizes both the Muslim attempt, beginning already in the Eighth Century, to replace standing Latin toponyms with Arabic labels and the modern recursion to that replacement-nomenclature as imperialistic gestures.  He writes that medieval Spaniards “considered the lands conquered by Islam to be part of Spain, not part of Islam, and therefore they did not use the term Al-Andalus,” the Muslim name for the subdued region.

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Upstate Consolation University Celebrates First Graduating Class in New Degree Program

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College Graduate in Educationally Mismatched Job

“Higher education is not about knowledge or skills,” says Upstate Consolation University Executive Deputy Chancellor of the Committee on Investor Communications Marl Flaybiter from behind the large mahogany desk in his office overlooking West Campus’s scenic Green Parking Lot; “no – higher education is about respect.”  A few years ago, on being appointed to his incumbency, Flaybiter began noticing how little respect graduating degree-holders from UCU were receiving when they entered the job market and presented their credentials to prospective employers.  While escorting potential investors around Uppchoock-on-the-Lake, the small, northerly city where his institution is located, Flaybiter observed that many of the service personnel in the local coffee bars and chain restaurants were recent UCU graduates.

Flaybiter counts off the many types of prestigious UCU-granted degrees held by these disrespectfully under-employed new alumni: “At least three of those kids – bright kids – had come out of our Social Justice and Sustainability Programs; five or six had bachelor’s or bachelorette’s degrees in Women’s Studies, and others came from Adventure Education, Puppet Arts, Safe Space Organizing, Slut-March Planning, and Critical White-Privilege Sciences.”  Flaybiter pauses to shake his head sorrowfully.  “I just couldn’t bear to see those kids – I mean, those young people – so shamefully disrespected by having to work as baristas, cashiers, waiters, and waitresses while living in their parents’ basements and going to work in their pajamas.”  As Flaybiter sees it, “The mismatch between the education and the job is, well, a tragedy, not just for the kids, and not just for the pajamas, but for the community.”

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The Second Reality Crumbles — Short Take III

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Chaos, as Hesiod puts it, “was the first thing that came to be.”  In a three-generation struggle, Zeus at last succeeded in imposing civilized order on the chaotic substrate of the cosmos.  Chaos, for Hesiod, might be first, but order is last; and order is infinitely preferable to Chaos.  In Hesiod’s story, after Zeus settles matters with the violent Titans (the Jotuns of Scandinavian myth), he must face one more challenge in the arousal of Typhon or Python, the Chaos-Monster.  In Hesiod’s vision of things, Chaos always lies in wait to erupt on order and subvert it.  Order is a struggle.  Chaos is the lapse back into what is easiest and most primitive.  So too in the election of Donald Trump to the presidency of the Several States of America, order is a latter imposition on Chaos, but Chaos lurks in its lair, ready to squirm out again and mess up the just apportionment of the civilized dispensation.  Thus, as the Drudge Report rehearses, “Agitators Plot Inauguration Chaos.”  What else would they plot?  After all, their motto is, “It is forbidden to forbid.”  That is to say, order is forbidden; Chaos is mandated – and the Law is the enemy of the crowd.  Drudge quotes a Daily Caller story as follows: “On the day of President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration protesters are planning an anti-capitalist march, road blockades and disruptions to inauguration balls…

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The Second Reality Crumbles — Short Take II

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As the Left’s second reality collapses, the Lefties still believe that they can dig themselves out of the sinkhole of their abysmal expectations.  The Left being a purely collectivist entity, it responds to every crisis, as to this crisis, by amassing itself in crowds.  As Gustave Le Bon remarked in his study of The Crowd (1895), crowd-behavior is de-individuated, non-conscientious, and essentially religious or sacrificial.  An individual who might, left to his own soul-searching, renounce such things as morality-renunciation and participating in hatred-inducing activities, will find relief from his qualms in the degree to which he congregates with others, whose collective massiveness assuages his guilt-pangs.  Once a nucleus of moral self-betrayers has gathered in close proximity, conscientiousness, which is individual, no longer impedes the impulse to action.  Guilt is distributed.  The subject, forfeiting his subjectivity, may do as he wills, however basely he wills, without the smart of any remorse.  The religiosity of the crowd is primitive religiosity, of course.  It wants to feel Karl Marx’s revolutionary Blutrausch in the spectacle of immolation, even if external social strictures prevent the immolation from being real but rather confine it to being only symbolic.  (Policemen murdered in ambushes are actual victims; men of European ancestry pilloried by female multiculturalists at “White Privilege” seminars are symbolic victims, who are permitted walk away with their humiliated lives.)

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The Second Reality Crumbles – Short Take I

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The Left believes itself to be historically inevitable.  The Left vehemently execrates anyone who denies its fundamental premise that it is historically inevitable.  To the Left, people who think otherwise than that the Left is historically inevitable are not thinking at all: Such people are ignorant, boorish, and very likely incapable of thinking – or, as the Left has long called it, “critical thinking.”  (I note in passing that the phrase “critical thinking,” like the phrase “social justice,” conforms to the Leftist linguistic pattern of taking an ordinary and perfectly well-understood noun and obliterating its standard meaning by the prefixation to it of a modifier which is actually a negation.)  Leftist “critical thinking” forecast the outcome of the 2016 presidential election many months in advance.  The election would go “inevitably” to That Woman.  The fix was in and the fix was cosmic or perhaps ontological.  Nothing could un-fix it, right?  However, the “inevitable” outcome failed to manifest itself.  For the Left, this constituted a cognitive, but more importantly an emotional, catastrophe, the equivalent of Krakatoa suddenly erupting in San Francisco Bay and spoiling everyone’s fun at the Gay Pride Parade.  The Left has always lived in a second reality, but now events had shaken that second reality to its phantasmal foundation, and the whole illusory structure began to collapse.

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Howard Hanson: The Music of God in Nature

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Howard Hanson (1896 – 1981) circa 1930

Nebraska-born of Swedish ancestry, Howard Harold Hanson (1896 ─ 1981) became by his mid-thirties what he had determined to become from an early age, the most popular American composer of serious music in the European concert tradition.  He had also become a sought-after teacher, orchestra leader, and musical administrator.  Hanson poured his seemingly inexhaustible vitality not only into the promotion of his own creativity, but, generously, into the promotion of his fellow composers, many of them, as time went on, his students at the Eastman School where he presided.  A radio documentary about the composer from the late 1980s revealed another side of the man.  Several of those interviewed by the producer complained – one of them indeed rather bitterly – about Hanson’s alleged egocentrism and insistence on getting his own way.  No doubt but that Hanson, believing himself a force, often stormed over those who, as he saw it, put themselves in the way of his schemes, his magnanimity in other circumstances notwithstanding.  The man being dead, however, and his personal entanglements being buried with him, the impressive practical and artistic achievements remain.  Paramount among these stands Hanson’s compositional legacy: Seven substantial symphonies, at least as many symphonic poems, a handful of concerted scores, numerous choral works, and an opera, which should have a more active place in the repertory, and not only by way of recordings.

With his contemporaries Roy Harris (1898 ─ 1979) and Aaron Copland (1900 ─ 1990), and with the slightly younger Samuel Barber (1910 ─ 1981), Hanson created a recognizably American sound in concert music, and demonstrated that American composers could adapt European musical forms to the conditions of a new society seeking to set its own mark on an inherited culture.  It is useful to compare Hanson’s legacy with the legacies of his countrymen-composers in the first half of the Twentieth Century.  Harris certainly matched Hanson in egocentrism, maybe exceeding him; but Harris lacked Hanson’s talent, peaking with his Symphony No. 3 (1937), really an extended passacaglia for orchestra, and repeating himself, at ever lower levels, for the remainder of his career.  Copland began as an avant-garde composer in the 1920s, assimilating influences from Arnold Schoenberg and Igor Stravinsky; he found his marketable voice in the “cowboy” ballets of the 1930s and the populist, large-scale Symphony No. 3 (1946), for whose finale he adapted his own earlier Fanfare for the Common Man.  Copland wrote a surprisingly small number of works and ceased to compose altogether after 1964.

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In the Fen Country: Landscape and Music in the Work of Gustav Holst and Ralph Vaughan Williams

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Robert Gallon (1845 – 1925): The Water’s Edge (1870s)

A strong sympathy for the landscape often entwines itself with a type of religious sensibility, particularly the pantheistic one.  In the decorative murals with which the wealthy classes of Rome during the Imperial centuries adorned their domestic lives, the idyllic scene, with its groves and grazing sheep, invariably contains a rustic temple.  In Hellenistic poetry, too, the writer – it might be Theocritus or at a later date Ovid – in describing the sylvan setting of Sicily or Arcadia emphasizes the presence everywhere of the nature-spirits.  Ovid’s Metamorphoses seem in part to be an explanation of why everywhere in the ancient world one encountered innumerable altars and shrines.  To the pagan mentality, everything, every tree and stream and mountain, shared in the quality of the sacred, and offered a home to the spirits and demigods.  So too in Romantic painting and verse, the artist’s response to the natural scene records his sense of the ubiquity of spirit.  Thus in William Wordsworth’s famous sonnet “The world is too much with us” (1802), the calamity of the emergent industrial and commercial order manifests itself most poignantly in the terrible loneliness of being cut off from participation in the aura of the elements –

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

The lyric subject of the poem, concluding that the modern dispensation has left men “for everything… out of tune,” wishes that he were (although he is not) “a Pagan suckled in a creed outworn,” that is, someone who might “have glimpses that would make me less forlorn” of “Proteus rising from the sea.”  That men should have become acutely aware of nature in the early nineteenth century is hardly surprising.  The social and economic developments of the period, the hypertrophy of cities and the dissolution of ancient arrangements in the countryside, wrought changes in the very appearance of the rural landscape.  A generation later than Wordsworth, in the “Wessex” stories and novels of Thomas Hardy, the situation has grown even more acute.  In the short story “The Fiddler of the Reels,” the great fact of existence is the Crystal Palace, in the year of whose construction much of the action takes place.  The countryside is emptying into the great cities; railroads have appeared in the provinces to draw away the young people, and the expansion of a new order of industry and finance has begun to alter the familiar aspects of field and forest, river valley and hill.

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Consciousness, Culture, and Art: Informal Comments on an Imagist Poem by William Carlos Williams

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Ou Li Da

The poem to which this essay’s subtitle refers is one of the much-excerpted and much anthologized verse-interpolations in the Menippean combination of verse and prose, Spring and All (1921), that the New Jersey poet William Carlos Williams (1883 – 1963) produced at the acme of his self-consciously Imagist phase in the years after the First World War.  The poem carries no title, but, according to the tenets of Imagism, presents itself to the reader as an instance of res ipso loquitur or “the thing speaks for itself.”  In a later phase of his insistent creativity, Williams would adopt as his poetic motto the formula, “no ideas but in things,” the implication of which is that experience is not solipsistic, nor consciousness hermetic, but that any self-aware navigation of the world presupposes an intentional relation between the navigator and the world that he navigates, which he records as images, ideas, or concepts.  Williams’ poetry in all its phases possesses the charm that its author maintains equal interest in the reality and workings of the external world and in the mystery and joy of the mind that represents and cognizes that reality and those workings.

Williams’ oeuvre offers itself seriously in two other ways: Its author knew that consciousness, language, and culture intertwine with one another aboriginally, so that any investigation of one necessarily entails an investigation of the two others; and he knew that consciousness is historical, that it has traceable origins that suggest the mechanism of its making.

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