Suggested Reading For Analytical Philosophers: Wordsworth’s Prelude

cole-voyage-panel-iv-1842

This modest offering stems from two provocations.  One is Richard Cocks’ piquant disquisition at The People of Shambhala, referenced here at The Orthosphere, concerning the limitations inherent in the modern school of thought that calls itself Logical Positivism or Analytical Philosophy; the other is a pedagogical necessity that befell me last week to explicate in class for the students of my “Writing about Literature” course a famous passage from William Wordsworth’s Prelude, Book I.  My title must obviously be taken cum grano salis, as logical positivists and analytical philosophers would immediately reduce Wordsworth’s  observations and arguments to their own insipid categories.  Frankly, I cannot imagine the logical positivists or analytical philosophers, or howsoever they dub themselves, making any sense whatsoever of Wordsworths verses or, for that matter, being interested in or aware of them.  Wordsworth’s fundamental assumptions must be opaque to such people.

I have written up my lecture-outline as a short essay.  I append the text on which I comment at the end of the essay.  Those sufficiently generous to feel curiosity about the essay might want to read the excerpt first.  I take for my illustration the fourth panel of The Voyage of Life (1842) by Thomas Cole, one of the founders of the Hudson Valley School.

***********

A Brief Essay on the Adventure of the Boat at Night: It is an observation of natural philosophy that ontogeny repeats phylogeny: That is, the gestation and maturation of the individual repeat the gestation and maturation of the family, genus, or the species.  More generally speaking, everything that exists is an effect that research – or introspection – can trace back to a cause until the procedure finds its destination in a First Cause.  These facts entail any number of paradoxes, not least the poet William Wordsworth’s contention, found in his little poem “My Heart Leaps Up” (1802), that “the child is the father of the man”:

wrodsworth-my-heart-leaps-up

Wordsworth averred often in his prosaic self-explanations that his every line of verse belonged to one great conjectural poem such that each smaller poem was but part of a transcendent whole, which could perhaps never be completed in the poet’s lifetime.  That one Wordsworthian poem should  comment on another should come therefore as no surprise.  The few short lines, almost throwaway verse, of “My heart leaps up” indeed suggest much concerning a crucial passage from one of the early books of one of Wordsworth’s most ambitious poems – the epic-length verse-autobiography The Prelude, begun by the poet as early as 1798 but never published until after his death in 1850.  In the episode in question, Wordsworth recounts one of the adventures of his boyhood, in the Lake District of Northwest England just below the Scottish Border, the native locale where he spent his childhood and to which he returned to live later in life after the peregrinations of his young adulthood.

Continue reading

The Bloom of Health Is Not Itself Health

Liberty is not the basis of rightly ordered society, as liberals think. Liberty is rather a byproduct of a rightly ordered society.

A society that lacks liberty – that, i.e., contravenes the doctrine of subsidiarity (which mandates the devolution to each organ of the social hierarchy (thus, in the limit, to individuals) all the powers each of them can well handle, or delegate in their turn) – is not just, to be sure. That injustice however lies, not in its lack of liberty, but in the fact that it is wrongly ordered to begin with.

Continue reading

Whit Stillman’s Damsels in Distress (2011) & the Crisis of Subscendence

Damsels in Distress CD COVER

Filmmaker Whit Stillman has managed with considerable aplomb to avoid the clichés of the romantic comedy, a genre within whose parameters he nevertheless works, not least in his fourth film of five, Damsels in Distress (2011).  In addition to being a romantic comedy, to the extent of transforming itself in its denouement into a 1930s guy-gets-girl musical number, with Fred Astaire’s voice patched into the soundtrack, Damsels in Distress is a college film.  Because Stillman understands the meaning and function of college, his college film is also a film about civilization – or rather about the current degeneracy of what used to be Western Civilization, as made manifest by the decline of higher education.  In Damsels in Distress, Stillman has undertaken to represent what I once, in a casual essay, half-jokingly called subscendence, a kind of active anti-transcendence that seeks the lowest level in everything; but Stillman has also created a set of characters, in his eponymous damsels, who, discerning subscendence and judging it repellent, rally themselves to mount resistance against it.

Continue reading

A Thousand Essays

The Orthosphere yesterday reached 1,000 posts since we began writing here in early 2012. Meaningless in itself, this passage nevertheless marks a milestone. It is fitting then to reflect on how well we have met our original purpose, of providing a traditional, orthodox Christian perspective on the maelstrom ever in progress here on Earth.

Continue reading

Eric Gans on Leftist Resentment

Gans Eric

Eric L. Gans

Eric L. Gans has written about the Left’s total submission to its own unacknowledged resentment in his latest Chronicle of Love and Resentment (No. 514) at the Anthropoetics website.  Here are the first three paragraphs of “The Triumph of Resentment”:

Some decades ago when I was still naïve enough to think I could win a competitive grant I proposed a study of resentment, beginning with Achilles’ “rage” and running through Hamlet down to Nietzsche’s “discovery” of le ressentiment. When I received the comments of those who had turned down my application, I was struck by their tone of irritation. In effect, they were saying “we resent your interest in resentment,” which proved both the validity of my project and its impossibility of attracting either funding or readership. This is pretty much how the subject is viewed today.

The reader of the new New Republic or similar publications—and sometimes even conservative ones—is struck on the one hand by the extraordinary level of gender, racial, and miscellaneous resentment in almost every article, and on the other by the exclusive insistence on the resentment of Trump’s alt-right supporters, and that, slightly less virulent, of Republicans in general. The “hate the haters” line is applied without the least admission of the symmetrical and, recalling the origin of the left-right dichotomy in the French Revolution, originary political resentment—on the Left. Refusal to assume its own resentment has always been a defining feature of the Left, the source of its moral strength in denouncing inequities, but also of its arrogance and its crimes, and never before has it attained this degree of power in a functioning democracy.

The nineteenth century maintained considerable social stability despite its frequent political turmoil because the power base of society remained in traditional hands, meaning both that radical governments were of limited duration and that radical movements had a prima facie claim of speaking for the “oppressed.” The twentieth century was quite different. It’s no secret that Stalin and then Mao killed many more people than Hitler, that Pol Pot massacred a larger portion of his population than any of them, yet Mao still appears on Chinese currency, Fidel Castro and his henchman Che remain heroic figures to many (and our president does not fear association with their images), and even Stalin seems to be making a comeback under Putin, who sees the demise of the USSR as “the greatest tragedy” of the previous century. And we had a “socialist” running almost neck and neck for the presidential nomination with the former representative of the New Democrat faction of the Democratic Party.

The rest, which I strongly recommend, is accessible here.  Gans wrote the item before the “Brexit” returns were in, but his discussion, which involves Donald Trump, is relevant to the “Brexit” phenomenon, which is, itself, relevant to San Bernardino and Orlando.

Contract Hits on Babies

If abortion is murder, then to procure the services of an abortionist is to hire a hit man. It is to take out a contract on another human life. Who signs such contracts, or pays for them, is then as much a murderer as the knife man who does the cutting.

This is hard, but that’s how truth is.

Continue reading

The Non-religious Objection to Homosexuality Cannot be Sustained

At his blog, [Correction: A commenter says she’s a woman] in a post having nothing to do with the present topic, EvolutionistX writes

Take the most common argument against homosexuality: “God says it is a sin.” Young people are fairly atheist, believe in separation of church and state, and think a god who doesn’t like gay people is a jerk. This argument doesn’t just fail at convincing young people that gay marriage is bad; it also convinces them that God is bad.

By contrast, a simple graph showing STD rates among gay people makes a pretty persuasive argument that the “gay lifestyle” isn’t terribly healthy.

She’s not the only one to make such an observation. Radio talk show host Michael Medved has said much the same thing, that we should avoid religious arguments against homosexuality in the political arena.

Problem is, if God doesn’t oppose homosexuality then there’s ultimately nothing wrong with it. Continue reading

Mortified by the New Necromancy

If you wish to make a man do something that he does not wish to do, you must proceed in one of three ways. You may threaten to do him harm, you may promise to do him good, or you may persuade him that he is under some sort of “moral obligation” to do what you wish him to do. These might be called the three roads to power, power being “the possibility of imposing one’s will on the behavior of other people” (1). For simplicity’s sake, I will call these the Minatory Road, the Remuneration Road, and the Mortification Road. Continue reading