Superstition & Subscendence: An Essay in Honor of Tom Bertonneau

Bear with me here. I hardly know where I am going with this, although I feel I have caught the spoor of something Tom would find delightful – that he would join with me joyfully in this new hunt. I’m confused because all I have is that spoor, and my spirits are in a hurry and a muddle due to his too soon death. I miss my friend of many years – of too few! I am not yet sure how to do with the world that, henceforth, shall miss him.

Tom has been a valued colleague since we first encountered each other. We corresponded often – not often enough, alas – about our hopes and worries in respect to our work, much of it coordinate here. We sometimes asked each other for editorial advice upon that work. I could rely on Tom for sound counsel. I hardly know how I shall manage without his sagacity.

But I must. I bid you all help me in that project, in which we may hope we can all together proceed for many more years to come. That would be a fitting legacy of his penetrant honest cheerful mind.

I propose that this essay be an early installment in something like a festschrift for Tom. Let us all try to limn what it was that he taught us. Perhaps we might make a book out of it. Or maybe just something on the scale of an issue of Amazing Stories, circa 1935: the sort of thing that was an important source of grist for the mill of his wits. That would please him, perhaps above all things we might do to honor him.

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On the Difficulty of the Cosmos

Twenty years or more ago someone I care about gave me a couple 3D wooden puzzles. I forget how I got them, or from whom, but I remember I care about them. So I kept them on a shelf in my study. Here is one of them, disassembled:

Here is the other, ordered on exactly the same principles, assembled:

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Philosophical Skeleton Keys: The Stack of Worlds & the Literal Fall; &c.

The stack of worlds implicit in Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorems furnishes a way of understanding the Fall as having happened literally, and in (so far as I can tell) complete congruity with the latter day scientific model of our own world’s history – and, indeed, with that of any other – and with the account in Genesis.

This post supervenes two others in a series respecting divers Philosophical Skeleton Keys: first, The Stack of Worlds, and then, The Play: Its Wright, Players, & Characters. It will I think be easier to understand this post if you review them, before essaying this one.

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Philosophical Skeleton Keys: Idolatry

This key is simple to explain, but I have found it opens lots of doors; it explains lots of things. Idolatry is the worship of something less than the Most High; of something other than God. Simple, no?

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An Exchange with My Master Lawrence Auster About the Fall & Our Predicament

Back in 2011, a little more than a year before he died, my dear friend and master Lawrence wrote to me privily, and I responded likewise. Looking for something else altogether in my Journal of that year, I came across our exchange. I now share it with you, confident of his evangelical approval thereof, as an apologetic exercise of potential benefit to readers who might have known us, both – or, who have never heard of either of us. Lawrence wrote:

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Philosophical Skeleton Keys: The Play: Its Wright, Players, & Characters

This post is a sequel to my post on the stack of worlds. It tries to understand a few things about how a stack of worlds might work – or, perhaps, *must* work – and how those workings might help us untangle a few perplexities that have bedeviled thinkers for millennia. It is absurdly long, and for that I beg forgiveness. But I find there is little I can do about that, at present: when the inspiration comes, it comes as a unit, and the overwhelming necessity is just to get it all down before it vanishes.

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The Quaintness of the Regia Aeronautica in World War II

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Fascist Poster from 1938 Inviting Young Men to Try Out for the Air Force

Italian participation in World War II started late and ended early.  Italy only entered into combat when the Germans had rolled their Blitzkrieg over France and were conducting the final maneuvers that led to the armistice of 22 June 1940. The members of Benito Mussolini’s Grand Council, with the assent of the king, declared war on their Gaulish neighbors and attacked.  The main action took place in the air with the Regia Aeronautica or Royal Air Force making attacks on French fortifications and airfields.  The bombing and strafing raids were largely ineffective however because while the Italian air arm looked good in propaganda films, it deployed few modern types and of those — few proved themselves efficient in combat.  The obsolescence of Italy’s air-inventory had its roots in Mussolini’s participation in the Spanish Civil War on the side of the Nationalists.  In 1936 the Regia Aeronautica deployed an air arsenal that included up-to-date types, like the Savoia-Marchetti SM.81 trimotor bomber and the Fiat CR.32 biplane fighter.  The latter acquitted itself marvelously against the inferior French and Russian aircraft fielded by the Republicans.  The Cucaracha, as it came to be called, represented the perfection of the biplane interceptor and could also undertake ground-attack and close-support duties.  A Fiat V-twelve with six cylinders in each bank propelled the sleek, streamlined airframe pulled through the air by a two-bladed metal propeller.  The CR.32 had a maximum speed of about 230 miles per hour, fast when Italy introduced the type in the early 1930s.  The Cr.32’s two machine guns stood as adequate for the time.  The SM.81 followed the planform of a Savoia-Marchetti airliner, which meant that it had not begun life as a proposed military type.  Again, SM.81 performed adequately considering the opposition, as it had in the Italo-Abyssinian war of 1935 – 37, against no opposition at all.  Italy sent other types to Spain, including the Breda 65 ground-attack aircraft, which even managed to score a few victories in air combat, a role for which its designers did not intend it.

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Ralph Vaughan Williams – The “London” and “Pastoral” Symphonies and “Sinfonia Antartica”

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Claude Monet (1840 – 1926): Port of London (1871)

The English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872 – 1958) wrote nine symphonies over his lifetime beginning with the choral-orchestral Sea Symphony of 1910, a setting of Walt Whitman’s maritime verse, and ending with the Symphony in E-Minor of 1957.  Vaughan Williams eschewed a numbering system, designating his symphonic scores, which form the trunk of his compositional achievement, only by title or key signature.  As follow-ups to his Sea Symphony, Vaughan Williams produced A London Symphony (first version 1914; final revision, 1936) and A Pastoral Symphony (1921), both of which exhibit programmatic qualities although their author downplayed these, as have subsequent commentators.  The original version of A London Symphony had its first performance under Geoffrey Toye in its namesake city in March 1914, and A Pastoral Symphony, also in London, in January 1922 under Adrian Boult.  The next three symphonies (F-Minor, D-Major, and E-Minor) lacked titles, but the seventh, which drew on a film-score that the composer had written in 1947, he called Sinfonia Antartica.  The composer completed Sinfonia Antartica, after several years of revision, in 1952.  John Barbirolli then conducted the premiere in January 1953 with the Hallé Orchestra in Manchester.  The final symphony, sharing its key-signature (E-Minor) with the sixth, has literary roots in Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891).  It depicts a characteristic topography, in this case the Salisbury Plain, as do A London Symphony, A Pastoral Symphony, and Sinfonia Antartica theirs – but it remains untitled.  In fact, A London Symphony also takes inspiration, at least in part, from a literary source – the epilogue to H. G. Wells’ Tono-Bungay, a novel that saw publication in 1906.  Although professedly an agnostic, Vaughan Williams (hereafter RVW) in his works, including the symphonies, repeatedly and almost obsessively approached the topic, in all its aspects, of transcendence.

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Philosophical Skeleton Keys: The Stack of Worlds

This post supervenes my recent post On Some Happy Corollaries of Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorems (so you might want to review that post, and the earlier posts it cites in turn, in order to find yourself quite oriented in what follows (sorry, dear reader: not everything is TLDR)).

There is much talk in traditional cosmology of a stack of heavens above our own, and likewise of hells below. The hierarchy of angelic choirs echoes that stack. Most pagan pantheons feature such hierarchies of gods, with a Most High God above all gods, whom they worship, and who lives in the Highest Heaven which is above all the heavens. There is talk too of other worlds parallel to our own (such, e.g., as Jotunheim in the mythic scheme of the Vikings), that might communicate with each other (as at Ragnarok, when the giants of Jotunheim make war upon the men of Middle Earth and the gods of Asgard), so as to form a world of worlds.

That sort of talk struck me at first as fantastic, and so relatively irreal – despite its irresistible odor of concrete factuality, and its ubiquity in the traditions of Earth, and thus its uncanny tinct of credibility. There is also the difficulty that there is a certain beauty in the notion, that cannot be found in the flat idea that our world (however generously conceived (as with the various sorts of branching cosmoi proposed by this or that metacosmology)) is all there is. Then at last there is the ancient conviction of the Great Chain of Being, no link of which might be concretely missing if any part of the chain were to find concrete instantiation.

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Kristor & Ilíon: Gödel, Creation, Evil, the Satan, &c.

In my last post on some happy corollaries of Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorems, I tipped my hat to our long time commenter (and an orthospherean from before there was an Orthosphere) Ilíon, who had corrected some early posts of mine on the topic. Ilíon and I then took up a conversation by email, which he has reproduced at his own blog. I intend to continue my conversation with him there in the comments thread.

Ilíon is – how can I say this? Ilíon is like Auster and Zippy, with whom he tangled, both. He’s one of those sharp edged minds that always manage to teach me, if only by forcing me to get really clear on what the heck I mean, and, so, think. Our converse has always been challenging, and – without fail – charitable and friendly. And edifying.

He is also willing to entertain radical hypotheses, which makes him interesting. But he is just as ready to slice them to bits with an entirely orthodox Christian razor.

I therefore recommend to you my conversation with my longtime friend, Ilíon.