I feel sure that I am nowise unique in having struggled for years with the difficulty of the ontological status of the Platonic Forms. On Plato’s account, so far as it went, the Forms subsisted in a different realm – indeed, a different sort of realm – than our own. I could see well enough that, as immutable, that Realm must be more actual than our own. But, what is that Realm, where is it (is that even an appropriate question to ask?), and what relates it to our own? Indeed, how could a purely formal realm link up at all to our material world? I found I could not even begin to think about it.
If there are perfectly general statements that are true, they must be necessarily true, for only a necessarily true statement can be true in all possible worlds, so as to be perfectly general. Bearing in mind that ideas can’t have themselves, and cannot be true in the absence of any domain of reality to which they might appertain, so as to be true thereof, there must be at least one actual necessary being in virtue of whose knowledge of their truth such truths might be true necessarily.
The only question then is whether there are perfectly general statements that are true. “There are no true and perfectly general statements” is a perfectly general statement. If it is true, it is false. So it is false in all possible worlds. So there are perfectly general statements that are true, ergo etc.
When you think of the cockatoo, think of me…
III. Weird Tales served as the main venue of baroque science fiction although most critics regard that magazine as something other than and inferior to a science fiction periodical. To the extent that John W. Campbell’s vision defined the genre then perhaps Weird Tales really was not science-fictional. Nevertheless, Lovecraft published there, who admitted no supernatural elements in his fiction, along with Smith and Robert E. Howard. Indiana born Catherine L. Moore (1911-1987), linked to Lovecraft through her correspondence with him, seems however closer to Smith than to H. P. L. in more ways than one, beginning with her interest in intensely visual figuration, often architectural or ornamental, voluntary derangement as an antidote to unbearable ennui, and the emissary protagonist, all of which one can only classify as Symbolist. Now Symbolist aesthetics is related to baroque aesthetics, both by direct affiliation (Swedenborg to Baudelaire and Mallarmé) and in view of a persistent determination on the part of the individual artist to fill his canvas with detail and to impregnate every detail with meaning. The non-baroque artist regards his baroque co-practitioner as decadent, extravagant, self-indulgent, illogical, and repetitious – someone who pushes too many adjectives against his nouns. The baroque artist sees his critic as a Calvinist and a prude. Moore’s Northwest Smith, like Poe’s narrator in “MS. Found in a Bottle,” fulfills the roles both of pursuer and pursued; he too is fugitive, freethinking, not at all prudish, and never a Calvinist. He sits in bars viewing the traffic like a Baudelairean flaneur, consumes potions like a shaman, plumbs the depths of despair and ecstasy, and, last but not least, acts a knight-errant in defending victims against the sacrificial madness of crowds, wicked cabals, and cults.
My great-grand uncle Arnold Bertonneau (1832 – 1912) traveled from New Orleans to Boston and Washington D.C. in April, 1864, to present his Creole Petition to Congress, which ultimately rejected it. On 12 April Bertonneau responded to an invitation by the Massachusetts Republicans to speak on the merits of his proposal. After an introduction by Massachusetts Governor John A. Andrew, Bertonneau delivered the following words:
BEFORE THE OUTBREAK of the rebellion, Louisiana contained about forty thousand free colored people, and three hundred twelve thousand persons held in slavery. In the city of New Orleans, there were upwards of twenty thousand free persons of color. Nearly all the free persons of color read and write. The free people have always been on the side of
law and good order, always peaceful and self-sustaining, always loyal. Taxed on an assessment of more than fifteen million dollars — among many other things, for the support of public-school education — debarred from the right of sending their children to the common schools which they have been and are compelled to aid in supporting, taxed on their property, and compelled to contribute toward the general expense of sustaining the state, they have always been and now are prohibited from exercising the elective franchise.
When the first fratricidal shot was fired at Sumter, and Louisiana had joined her fortunes with the other seceding states, surrounded by enemies educated in the belief that “Africans and their descendants had no rights that white men were bound to respect,” without arms and ammunition, or any means of self-defense, the condition and position of our people were extremely perilous. When summoned to volunteer in the defense of the state and city against Northern invasion, situated as we were, could we do otherwise than heed the warning and volunteer in the defense of New Orleans? Could we have adopted a better policy? In the city of New Orleans, under the Confederate government, we raised one regiment of a thousand men, the line officers of which were colored.
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.”
The intelligentsia professes to admire irony. In the 1990s the members of that class watched Seinfeld in first-run and they subsequently bought the program on DVD because they took it for ironic. In the 2010s they watched Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm for the identical reason. Intellectuals usually identify themselves as ironists, of a rarer variety even than the redoubtable television comedian, whether it is Seinfeld or David, on the supposition that they stand askew to the prevailing social consensus, such that their perspective yields them an insight into matters opaque to hoi polloi. “I have baffled them,” the late Joseph N. Riddell, an English professor, once said within earshot of his graduate students while emerging from the Haines Hall lecture auditorium at UCLA. He had been deconstructing Ralph Waldo Emerson and Edgar Allan Poe in a lecture that quoted Jacques Derrida and other then-obligatory Frenchmen rather more than it quoted Emerson or Poe. The remark partook more in the self-congratulatory than in the ironic, but it was symptomatic of a certain enduring intellectual conceit in which the sense of a privilege of irony, or a satisfaction in superiority, also takes root. The modern or postmodern intellectual pretends to hover above the settled and the established, to gaze down upon the “culturescape,” as though from a height. Even while he declares himself “against Platonism” and works “to subvert metaphysics,” he cannot help but to take, likely without grasping the contradiction, a transcendentally guaranteed view of life, the world, and everything. Naturally he will deny participating in a transcendent domain, the idea of which he will mock, borrowing from Friedrich Nietzsche’s redoubtable treasure-trove of anti-Christian sophisms, but probably without knowing it.
[A Short Preface: I first delivered the following essay as a keynote address on the occasion of the fourth annual conference of the Association of Literary Scholars and Critics, in New York City, in the fall of 1999. It subsequently appeared in a number of Modern Age, the ISI quarterly. Some of the references are, in 2020, a bit dated, but nothing has changed essentially since the end of the last century – except that what was bad then has only gotten worse. I have rewritten the essay a bit, but have made no attempt to update the references in sections III and IV.]
This essay attempts to set out the basic or better yet the deep justification of the traditional curriculum. That phrase, “the traditional curriculum” means, of course, the Greek and Roman classics, the Bible, Dante, Shakespeare, Cervantes, and select items from modern and national literatures. The list in Harold Bloom’s study of The Western Canon (1997) is perfectly acceptable. “The traditional curriculum,” it must be added, also implies the basic training in literacy that comes before any acquaintance with the classics, or with a literature of any kind. It is worth remembering that alphabetic literacy, the precondition of literacy in the larger sense, constitutes a recent development in the half a million years or so of incontestable human presence. The literary tradition is the cumulus of a particular type of intellectual activity that first became possible less than three thousand years ago in Syria and the Levant and, a bit later and rather more pronouncedly, in the Greek cities from Ionia to Magna Graecia. Just how much this activity differed from anything else that human beings had ever done these paragraphs shall attempt to indicate. That the alphabet itself might be, in its way, the first great work of literature in the Western Tradition is not a thought that most people are used to thinking. Yet there could well be a pay-off in contemplating the ABCs in just that light. Like poems and dramas and novels, the alphabet imposes a wholly artificial order on an element, speech, of human experience and therefore puts that element in a new and unprecedented perspective. The confrontation with poems and dramas and novels is a continuation of the confrontation with what the letters and their combinations reveal about the distinguishing human trait, language. One begins, then, at the beginning.
One of the main functions of tradition is to pass down to successive generations a comprehension of the meanings of the customary and traditional praxes and language. If the Tradition fails at that, then the praxes become meaningless and stupid, and are soon discarded as extraneities worthily subject to Ockham’s Razor: to the first principle of order, which is deletion. That’s when you get iconoclasm, whether intentional or not.
Intentional iconoclasm knows the meanings of the icons it destroys. Unintentional iconoclasm does not. The former is effected by destruction; the latter by desuetude.
Once the meanings of the cultural praxes are gone, the praxes themselves soon follow; for, there is then no longer any reason for them, that anyone knows or remembers. And that’s when the culture decoheres.
A proposition that can’t be acted upon must be false, or even meaningless. So its contradiction must be true. Thus you can’t think that you can’t think, e.g.; so you can think, period full stop.
The corollary is that if you cannot avoid acting as if a proposition is true, then it must be true. You must at every moment act, willy nilly; so it is true that you can act. Your agency is real. There is literally no way around this operational presupposition. There is no way for us to be, except by an implicit presupposition of its truth. And the only way for us not to be – namely, suicide – is a way that, again, implicitly presupposes its truth. You can’t kill yourself if you can’t act. You can kill yourself. So you can act. QED.