Gustav Mahler’s “Resurrection” Symphony

Mahler-Klemperer S2 Album Cover

Introduction. Readers of The Orthosphere might approach the following essay as though it were an addition to a suite of music-appreciation essays that I have posted at this website.  Previously at The Orthosphere, I have commented on the music of Ernest Bloch (1880 – 1959), Eduard Tubin (1905 – 1982), Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872 – 1958), and Howard Hanson (1896 – 1981).  Gustav Mahler (1860 – 1911) is by far a more important composer than any of those four despite the fact that each is a splendid and wonderful composer in his own way.  I have reason to believe that once, during his sojourn in New York State and on his way to Niagara Falls with his wife, Mahler passed through the small town on Lake Ontario where, in my exile from my native California, I have lived since the fall of the fateful year 2001.  A fair number of Mahler acquaintances made their way to California in the 1930s.  I knew musical people in California who had known Mahler – or who had known Mahler’s wife or daughter.  I knew others who, like me, had come powerfully under the spell of Mahler, whose influence may be heard in certain landmark film-scores, like those, for example, of Eric Korngold.  For me, Mahler has been a presence, immediate and personal, since my late teens, when I began to make my acquaintance with his extraordinary symphonies on record.  That was the heyday , at the end of the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s, of the long-playing vinyl album.  Usually, the album came with extensive, small-type notes on the reverse of the cover or with a booklet inside the sleeve that was even more detailed than the back-of-the-sleeve essay.

It was possible in Los Angeles in the early 1970s to purchase “boxed sets” of the Mahler symphonies in the so-called Vox Box series – vintage (usually monophonic) recordings offered in three-disc sets for about a dollar per disc.  I probably first heard the “Resurrection” Symphony (Symphony No. 2, begun in the late 1880s and finished in the early 1890s) in one of the many recordings of that work made by Otto Klemperer, a Mahler-acolyte and noteworthy itinerant conductor, who became especially associated with Mahler’s “Resurrection.”

Continue reading

The “Ula Lu La Lu” & Consciousness: Meditations on an Imagist Poem by William Carlos Williams

Botticelli Venus

Sandro Botticelli: Venus (1486)

Introduction. The American poet William Carlos Williams (1883 – 1963) began his authorship with imagist poems and quirky mixtures of prose and verse like Spring and All (1923), a book that intersperses paragraphs of speculation concerning poetry, consciousness, and the world with seemingly improvised but in reality carefully composed verse-effusions that attempt an audacious transformation of the banal into the sublime.  Scholars of Twentieth-Century American poetry invariably categorize Williams as modern or avant-garde, but I would argue that Williams continues strongly in the Transcendentalist or American-Romantic tradition of the century previous to his own.  Spring and All, supposedly an epitome of idiosyncratic American modernism, offers a case in point, even in those statements where Williams appears to reject tradition altogether and extols the virtue of “the imagination, freed from the handcuffs of ‘art.’”  In an early prose-sequence of Spring and All, Williams denounces those whom he calls “The Traditionalists of Plagiarism.”  Williams uses the term plagiarism in an unusual way, as a failure of consciousness  and perception to rediscover the newness and beauty – indeed even the sublimity – of the given world in all its particulars.  In effect, in Spring and All, Williams engages a new version of the Romantic critique of complacency, recording, as he puts it, “our despair at the unfathomable mist into which all mankind is plunging.”

Complacency is the failure of imagination to invest fully in the structure of reality and the order of being; complacency is the epistemological and cognitive counterpart of original sin.  Williams, like all good Romantics, aims at redeeming humanity from its wretched lapse, its Winter of Discontent, so as to establish men and women in the paradisiacal springtime of refreshed apprehension.

Continue reading

You Can’t Heal Yourself

If you could heal yourself, you’d already have done it.

You need help.

A teacher or therapist, a spiritual director or guru or sensei, a confessor or coach may certainly help. But at most such men can lead the horse to water, and nothing more. In the end, to be healed, you need to go ahead and drink the Living Water. This is the acceptance of supernatural help.

Continue reading

Scaping Goats is Lots More Fun than Repentance

The more you can attribute blame for some bad thing to others, the less blame you need to shoulder yourself, and the less guilt you then need to suffer. And as guilt lessens, so does the costliness of the personal sacrifice adequate to its expiation.

Continue reading

Globalism, Don Juan and the Perennial Philosophy

The perennial philosophy postulates a spiritual Source from which all being emanates; all is one. It is the contention that there is a structure to reality and this structure matches man’s interiority; his soul. There is a hierarchy of being; body, mind, soul and spirit.

One might add that if love is connection and all is one, then love corresponds to the structure of ultimate reality. In the realm of the Absolute, there are no distinctions; no individuals, no time and no space – just love.

However, I argue in Globalism, Don Juan and the Perennial Philosophy published at the Sydney Traditionalist Forum that in order for love to be made manifest in the realm of the Relative, it is necessary to love individuals; individual people, individual families and individual countries. Liberals make a philosophical and theological mistake in backing globalism which attempts to bypass the particular. This can be compared to Don Juan. A man who loves women must express his romantic love by loving a particular woman. Don Juan, however, attempts to simply bed as many women as possible, treating them as disposable nothings, which is far from love. The deracinated, rootless cosmopolitan likewise has no attachments to any particular country, community, culture or landscape and therefore loves none of them adequately, if at all.

Philosophy and the Crisis of the Modern World

Philosophy and the Crisis of the Modern World is my contribution to a symposium on the topic of identity published at the Sydney Traditionalist Forum. René Guenon criticizes philosophy for generating this crisis. He argues that removing or ignoring the esoteric content of Platonic philosophy resulted in exoteric rationalism which has dominated Western philosophy, certainly since the scientific revolution. Since rationality is not itself generative, but merely analytic, philosophers find themselves with a vacuum where God should be and inevitably head in the direction of nihilism – the unavoidable consequence of postulating a Godless universe.

It is hard to see how a nihilistic culture could sustain itself in the long term. My argument is consistent with these comments by Scott Weidner concerning T. S. Eliot:

Eliot formulated the most basic tenet of his cultural theory, that religion and culture are essentially “related.” <4>  In fact, Eliot argued that “no culture has appeared or developed except together with a religion: according to the point of view of the observer, the culture [appears] to be the product of the religion, or the religion the product of the culture.” <5>   They might be thought of as different aspects of the same thing; culture was “the incarnation of the religion of a people.” <6>   Civilizations which appeared to be secular or humanistic, such as ancient Greece and Rome, were actually religious cultures in decline. <7>   Culture could not be preserved, extended, or developed in the absence of religion, nor could religion be preserved and maintained if culture was not. <8>

René Girard – Imitation and Life Without God

In preparation for teaching a literature course in the 1950s, René Girard reread some of the classic novels. In the process he realized that the novelists had had profound insights into aspects of the human condition and that to a large degree, they were the same insights…

In Deceit, Desire and the Novel, possibly René Girard’s best book, he argues that denying the existence of God does not remove the desire for transcendent meaning. Thwarted from seeking spiritual satisfaction from above, the desire gets directed towards other people who it is imagined have god-like qualities of self-sufficiency and autonomy and that we alone have been excluded from this divine status – creating resentment and compounding human misery.

Likewise, various utopian ideas are an attempt to create heaven on earth, frequently creating hell on earth. Trying to satisfy transcendent desires in the realm of the immanent is a disaster, both in politics and in relationships between people.

In this essay published at the Sydney Traditionalist Forum, I also draw connections between Girard and St. Augustine’s notions of the role of God in human life.

René Girard – Imitation and Life Without God

When God is Dead, Rationalists Accept Contradictions to Fill the Void

Goedel’s Theorem is an application to mathematics of Aristotle’s thesis that thinking relies on first principles and that first principles are unprovable assumptions. This means that faith and hope are ineradicable features of human existence even in the exact sciences. The briefest summary of the implications of Goedel’s Theorem and the necessity for first principles is the notion that not everything that is true can be proven to be true.

Goedel’s Theorem states that an axiomatic system can be consistent and incomplete, inconsistent and complete, but never consistent and complete. Eternal verities can only be proven in relation to other eternal verities. Axiomatic systems exist on the rational plane of thought. Their rationally approximate and unprovable nature is due to their ultimate reliance on transcendent truths described in Plato’s realm of Forms. For instance, people contrast earthly justice with perfect justice, though the latter has never been instantiated in the physical realm. This implies some intuition of perfect justice, though no one has ever experienced such a thing.

Positivists and post-modern relativists are likely to regard each other as opposites. More than likely both will be liberals and in most cases share a contempt for religion and any notion of transcendence. As rationalists, they will also most likely reject emotional attachment to and especial preference for family, tradition, community, culture and the local physical landscape. The modern liberal instead is committed to being a citizen of the world and welcoming to all comers, no matter their basic hostility to the ethos of the host culture.

Continue reading

How I Got Religion

Not, “how I became religious,” but “how I came to understand religion.”

It is extremely difficult for most moderns to negotiate the passage to the fundamentally spiritual perspective that all humans shared before the Enlightenment. At least, I found it so, for the longest time. Despite a number of spiritual experiences that I could nowise gainsay, I could make no philosophical sense of spiritual realities using the intellectual tool kit my Modern education had provided me. I got a lot of training in how to think about the physical, but I didn’t know how to think about the spiritual (or, for that matter, anything not physical). That made it somewhat incredible, and indeed somewhat scandalous. And this made it quite difficult to be wholeheartedly religious – to worship or say the Credo without invoking a string of philosophical hedges and equivocations that rather emptied the whole procedure of its numinous, compelling quality, and thus of its point.

Having no way to comprehend spiritual realities, I could not even understand quite exactly what the articles of the Credo properly mean, or what I was meant to be doing in worship. I now realize that I often encounter that same incapacity in atheist interlocutors. They don’t seem to have a way of understanding what it is that theists are talking about. So their arguments often miss the point entirely, and when theists point this out to them they simply can’t see that they are fundamentally misunderstanding the terms of the dialogue.

Modernity’s inadequacy to spiritual realities is echoed in its incomprehension of consciousness, agency, meaning, value, morality, and in the limit truth, beauty, and virtue – or their antipodes. Under its own terms, Modernism cannot account for these things, and must if it is to discuss them at all resort to unprincipled exceptions. This renders it incapable of coherent treatment of any of the basic aspects of life as it is actually lived and experienced. It is, in a word, unable to understand minds, or therefore persons, or a fortiori their lives.

Modernity does however comprehend bodies, better by an order of magnitude than any previous age. So naturally, and like any other successful weltanschauung, it wants to interpret everything under its own terms. It wants to make bodies basic, and reduce all experience to motions of bodies.

Modernism takes bodies to be utterly dead. It wants to say that everything is motions of those dead objects. But as is obvious to the most cursory consideration, the life of the mind is not a congeries of dead things, or of their lifeless collisions. It is an active, lively process. It is a series of happenings, a temporal assemblage of occasions, each of which – whether conscious or not – is in some degree alive to its past and intends some future.

[Of such lively intensions implemented in actual transactions among entities is the causal nexus that connects and relates disparate events constituted as a coherent integral world system.]

It is furthermore transparently obvious that no configuration of dead things can be alive. Only what is alive can be alive.

As incoherent, then, the Modern project of reducing life to motions of dead bodies is, not just doomed to failure, not just impossible (as a complete consistent logical calculus, while conceivable, is not possible), but strictly meaningless, ergo unthinkable: not even wrong.

Continue reading

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