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.

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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.

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George Inness: The Rainbow

Inness George (825 – 1894) Rainbow (1877 - 78)

George Inness (May 1, 1825 – August 3, 1894) belonged to the second generation of the so-called Hudson River or Hudson River Valley School, the first distinctively American school of painting.  In his early work, Inness advances the “luminist” tendency of his precursors (Thomas Cole, Asher Durand, Frederic Church, Albert Bierstadt, and others); and like them, he is almost exclusively a landscape painter, interested in the effects of light on mountain, valley, plain, lake, ocean, and sky.  In his later work, Inness innovates in the direction of Impressionism.  The Hudson River painters were American Romantics, steeped in the nature-philosophy of Ralph Waldo Emerson and his followers, but also conversant with the late-medieval tradition of reading nature as the outward sign of the supernatural (think Jakob Boehme), a tendency that culminates in the strange but influential writings of Emanuel Swedenborg.  Inness occasionally identified himself as a Swedenborgian.

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An Image for Our Time

Atlantic Abomination 01 (Art by Richard Powers)Edmund Alexander “Ed” Emshwiller (February 16, 1925 – July 27, 1990) was a commercial artist and illustrator and later, in the 1960s, an auteur of so-called experimental film.  He is notably identified with the science fiction genre, having contributed scores of covers to Galaxy magazine, and other similar periodicals, in the 1950s and 60s.  Emshwiller’s illustrations also graced many a paperback cover, as in the case of the Ace paperback edition of John Brunner’s Atlantic Abomination.  I have posted Emshwiller’s Abomination (so to speak) previously at The Orthosphere.  It is time to display it again.  Emshwiller’s painting instantiates the possibilities that lay within the popular and commercial genres of art in the middle of the last century.  It is a powerful image with many resonances in the archives of painting and drawing, which, to my mind, speaks deeply to our condition.

I invite commentary on Emshwiller’s image, or indeed on Brunner’s story, his lone foray into H. P. Lovecraft territory, should anyone have read it.

P.S. I call dibs on any That-Woman interpretation of the image.

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.

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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.

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The Gothic Cathedral: Fossil of the Human Acme

EH Looney writes somewhere that, “Antiquity is the prologue; modernity is the epilogue.” If so, then what came between antiquity and modernity – the age between the ages, the Mediaeval Age – is the main matter of history, its greatest intensification of value and significance so far. What came before it was a prolegomenon; what came after, merely after. This is nowise to deprecate the achievements either of ancient or modern civilization, but only to put them in perspective.

Is it a credible notion?

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The Duty of the Adult to the Child

How does homosexuality – so obviously lethal to reproductive success – keep propagating? It’s really quite simple.

When I read Moira Greyland’s horrifying account of her repeated sexual molestation as a child at the hands of her homosexual parents, Marion Zimmer Bradley and Walter Breen, everything suddenly clicked into place. It’s not so much that there’s a gay gene (although there might be); or a gay virus (ditto); or a preconscious nisus among gays to spread their perversion through predation upon the young, “waking up the natural homosexual feelings that all people have,” so that they themselves can feel that they are somewhat more normal and unobjectionable (seems not unlikely); or that homosexuality is a search for the approval of an absent or distant or mad parent (a reasonable theory, prima facie). All these factors might be at work. But they are not needed to secure the propagation of homosexual behavior down through the generations.

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