My essay A Novel for Our Time appears at Baron Bodissey’s Gates of Vienna website. The “novel for our time” is Dark Angel (1952) by the Finnish writer Mika Waltari (1931 – 1979), a fictionalized account, drawing on historical sources, of the Fall of Constantinople in 1453. Waltari’s work is today largely forgotten, but during his lifetime it received widespread appreciation and made itself available to non-Finnish speakers through translations in a dozen languages. (Waltari’s novel The Egyptian, for example, would become the basis of a lavishly produced Hollywood film of the same name.) Dark Angel is partly allegory, being a study in loyalty to civilization and its opposite; and it is partly a call to its audience to remember an event that is increasingly obscure or entirely unknown to most Western people. Most importantly – and most relevantly from the perspective of sixty years later – Dark Angel is an attempt to grasp the essence of Islam. Waltari’s characterization of Islam stands at an angle to a number of assumptions that critics of that creed at the present time make of it – and in a way that heightens the claim of radical incompatibility between Islam and the West.
According to our – very plastic – seminar-schedule, the tentative completion-date for our cooperative reading of Hegel’s Introductory Lectures on Aesthetics is the middle of June, which is approaching. I myself am now engaged in a second reading of the Lectures, with the aim of making careful notes to be the basis of a short essay. I will post that essay at The Orthosphere. The present short missive consists of what I hope are helpful hints to anyone tackling Hegel’s treatise.
Believe it or not, the Lectures show Hegel’s prose at what might be its most accessible and least abstract; its chapters are few, only five, and three of the five are relatively short. Readers should remind themselves on every turn of the page that the first four chapters constitute the preparation for the fifth chapter, where Hegel (at last, readers might well say when they reach it finally) addresses the topic entirely in his own voice. Being an historical thinker par excellence and, in his own terms, a dialectical thinker, Hegel, in the first four chapters, mainly rehearses the history of aesthetics and critiques other theories of fine art and the beautiful prior to or in contention with his own. Here again readers need to take care to keep separate Hegel’s summaries of what other, previous thinkers have had to say about fine art and beauty, and what Hegel himself holds to be the case.
Richard Cocks and I have proposed to ourselves a summer reading project on the linked topics of aesthetics and kallistics. We invite interested parties to join us, if they like. The reading-list consists of four items chosen because of their germaneness to the two topics, but also because they are relatively short and mainly accessible to non-specialists, such as the two of us. I give these four titles in the order in which we propose to read them. –
W. F. Hegel: Lectures on Aesthetics (1818)
Plotinus: On Intellectual Beauty (circa 250 AD)
Friedrich Schiller: Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man (1794)
Plotinus: On the Three Initial Hypostases (circa 250 AD)
The curriculum is plastic. Richard and I plan to have read Hegel’s Lectures by the middle of June. We will write up a short summary of our discussion to be posted at The Orthosphere, with an invitation to comment. We plan to have read Plotinus’ On Intellectual Beauty by the end of June, and so on, encompassing Schiller’s Letters and Plotinus’ On the Three Initial Hypostases, which is, notwithstanding its odd-sounding name, also concerned with beauty.
It strikes both Richard and me that beauty is central to the Traditional view of “life, the universe, and everything.” It strikes us both that beauty is increasingly under attack in the postmodern dispensation, which either denies its existence or declares it to belong to the institutions of oppression. We believe therefore that a concerted introductory study of aesthetics and kallistics will be useful to those who participate, especially insofar as it results in a better understanding of beauty as an objective and integral element or character in the order of being and the structure of reality.
The titles given above in bold green typescript are links to online versions of the four items. I will be reading Hegel and Schiller in the convenient Penguin editions (in English translation); Richard will probably be reading Plotinus, as will I, again in the Penguin edition of the Enneads, in the translation by Stephen McKenna and B.S. Page. The Penguin edition, while no longer in print, is easily available in second-hand copies.
Lewis Spence (1874 – 1955) published his prophetic account Will Europe Follow Atlantis in 1943 at the nadir of Allied fortunes during the Second World War. Spence, beginning as a journalist and folklorist, had made an enduring reputation by the early 1920s as a major authority on myth and legend, certifying his knowledge of those subjects in numerous books on the ancient stories of the Celts, the Rhineland Germans, the Greeks, the Romans, the Egyptians, the Mesopotamians, and the Mesoamericans. These extremely useful compendia remain in print. In 1924, however, Spence issued a book that gained him notoriety for a different although related reason.
This book in question was The Problem of Atlantis, a study of Plato’s Atlantis Myth in its twin sources, the dialogues Timaeus and Critias, of related stories in myth and folklore, and, with a survey of geology and ethnology, of the plausibility in Plato’s account. In The Problem of Atlantis, Spence, in jazz terminology, played it cool. While arguing for a factual basis of the narrative in the Platonic texts, Spence avoided the occult vision of Atlantis as a prehistoric Utopia founded on lost sciences and technologies. He insisted on sober evaluation of the evidence, arriving at the conclusion that Atlantis had existed, as Plato wrote, in the oceanic gap between Western Europe and North America; that it was, prior to its submergence, a High Stone Age, what modern commentators would call an Upper Neolithic, society; and that, during a prolonged breakup of its landmass requiring many centuries, its inhabitants migrated via North Africa and Iberia to Europe’s Atlantic littoral areas and the British Isles. Ensconced in those new bases, they did their best to preserve their traditions and codify the knowledge of their origin. The fleeing Atlanteans, whom Spence calls Aurignacians, and whom he identifies with the Cro-Magnons, also crossed the ocean in the other direction, contributing to the cultural matrix of the emerging societies in North and South America. Spence’s argument about Atlantis was a radical version of a then-current anthropological theory known as dissemination or cultural radiation, which posited a monogenesis for human culture.
A few months before the US elections of 2016, my creative output cratered. I had got interested in the news, and begun to follow it. I stopped reading books, instead reading articles online. Most of them were pretty good, and I learned some interesting stuff from them. But what I learned was mostly obsolescent just a few weeks later. This is to say that it didn’t matter, and I shouldn’t have wasted my time on it.
If you want to be creative, or good, or in touch with things as they are, you simply must cut off almost all consumption of media. You must instead go for walks under the sky, read old books that don’t much pertain to our current travails, spend time in prayer, contemplation and silence, get away from the noise and the hurry of any sort, and turn your attention to heavenly things, and away from earthly things. Earthly things are all dead (this is why they vanish like chaff in the wind). Your life – your real life, your true life, the one that truly matters to you and to those whom you love (especially your children) – is hid with Christ in God. Seek it there. Seek him there.
OK: now to check up on Drudge …
Born in Avignon in 1923, the late René Girard (deceased 2015) trained in Paris during the German occupation of France as a specialist curator of medieval documents; beginning in 1949 he taught in the USA as a professor-generalist in history. He would eventually arrive at a fundamental insight regarding human nature that puts him on the level with the most profound anthropological thinkers in the Western or any other tradition. The road to this insight reached across a decade and required a change of scholarly interest. Girard first made his name, after switching his scholarly focus and obtaining a doctorate in French Literature at Indiana University in 1958, as a literary critic, with his study of vanity and resentment in prose narrative called, in French, Mensonge Romantique et Vérité Romanesque (1962). Deceit Desire & the Novel studies the authorial obsession with the genesis of misery in the tendency of the human subject to acquire his desires from what he takes to be the desire, or object-of-desire, of another person. Novelistic protagonists indeed imagine that absolute being, seemingly denied to them, resides embodied in the other person so that the subject wants and attempts to become that other person. Girard had discovered in the novelists the non-originality of desire. He had also discovered—or rather, the novelists had discovered—a complex psychology and a related oblique rhetoric, the Mensonge Romantique or “Romantic Lie” of the French original, that systematically deny this non-originality of desire and claim the complete, yet miserable, sufficiency of the ego. Even more simply, Girard had discovered the centrality of mimesis or “imitation” in psychology and culture.
Introduction. The action of Flaubert’s Herodias, one of the Trois Contes or Three Tales of 1877, occurs on the birthday of Herod Antipas or Antipater, the Hellenized “Tetrarch” of Judea who is in fact a client-king permitted to rule over his people solely by the political calculation of reigning Roman emperor, Tiberius. Tensions run high in Judea. The influential preacher John the Baptist, whom the Tetrarch currently holds imprisoned in a dungeon, has denounced Herod for his marriage to the divorced wife, Herodias, of the Tetrarch’s exiled brother, Herod Philip I. The marriage amounts, says John, to incest. Apart from the specific charge, the Baptist’s preaching has stirred up religious turmoil in the kingdom, encouraging a general dissidence. The Pharisees, for example, feel displaced in piety and thus in status as strict interpreters of the law by John’s extravagant Puritanism; they already incline to distrust Herod, largely Greek in education and taste, an obvious puppet of Rome, and in these ways only barely a Jew. Flaubert writes, “The Jews were tired of [Herod’s] idolatrous ways.” As readers later learn, Sadducees, Essenes, and Samaritans, and others live grudgingly with one another in Herod’s realm; the reasons for their mutual mistrust seem more or less exaggerated and ritually or tribally driven. Herod’s factional ties in Rome also complicate his life.
In Rome political jockeying takes place ceaselessly among various power brokers who would gain influence over the monarch for their own corrupt benefit. Herod thinks to himself, for example, that, “probably Agrippa [one of his rivals] had ruined his credit with the emperor.” His other brother Philip is meanwhile “secretly arming” behind his borders while Arab warriors in service to an ambitious raider-king have encamped themselves on his southern march. Herod vacillates between the possibilities of making a pact with the Arabs or making one with the Parthians, Rome’s enemy and counterweight in the East. Herod is proverbially between a rock and a hard place – or between the abyss and the Resurrection.
One of my favorite sorts of book relates fascinating historical facts new to me, in such a way as to cast a novel light upon a subject or an era. The facts all by themselves are savory intellectual morsels; the discovery of their dense, thick and muscular coordination under a new perspective is strong meaty beer.
Lydia McGrew has written just such a book, and I have just had the pleasure of reading it. A pillar of the traditional Christian Right, a prolific and penetrating blogger (both at her own site, Extra Thoughts, and at What’s Wrong With the World), McGrew is among other things (mother, home schooler, musician, etc.) an analytic philosopher and formidable Christian apologist. She has also commented here from time to time.
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.
Each of us is a pilgrim on a road that we hope will take us to the Celestial City. But we must admit this is very often a dark road, haunted by murderous footpads and crowded on either side with the strip malls, billboards and seedy motels of Vanity Fair. In out of the way places where they have yet to attract the notice of the highway department, one may, however, stumble upon a fingerpost pointing to an inn of godly refreshment. I recently raised my tired eyes to one such fingerpost at Bruce Charlton’s Notions, and have since spent some grateful hours supping by the hearth of a five-star inn of godly refreshment called Meeting the Masters. My hospitable host is William Wildblood, author of a book of the same name (which I will be reading) and occasional contributor at Albion Awakening. Many Orthosphere readers no doubt frequent B.C.’s Notions, and therefore have already turned at his fingerpost and made their way to Meeting the Masters. I’m setting up this fingerpost by the wayside for those who don’t, and haven’t. First-rate fare for weary pilgrims!