The Other Side of the Mountain

Until very recently, the prefixes “cis” and “trans” were mostly used as terms of art in geography.  The most common usage was Cisalpine and Transalpine Gaul (or Europe).  The former meant “on this side” of the Alps (from the viewpoint of Rome), the later “on the other side.”  Transylvania is another very well-known geographical construction of this sort; it means, of course, the land “beyond the woods.”  Continue reading

Forgeries of Spoilage

When demand exceeds supply, there will be forgeries.  Paintings by Rembrandt are the locus classicus of this phenomenon, but a list of examples would be long and various.  If you’ve ever been disappointed by a “fine dining experience” or a “room with a view of the ocean,” it’s likely because what you got wasn’t really fine, or a view, but rather some crummy forgery or facsimile of the same. Continue reading

Casting Stones the New Way

We all know the story of the woman taken in adultery (John 8: 1-11).  The adulteress is discovered, we are given to believe, in flagrante delecto, and the scribes and Pharisees thereupon haul her before Jesus and demand to know whether she should be put to death (as stipulated in Leviticus 20:10).  Jesus extemporizes by stooping down and tracing figures in the dust.  When at last he stands, he famously answers them by saying: “he that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone.” Continue reading

Woke Bibliographies

Dr. Carrie Mott is a feminist geographer recently hatched from the graduate program at University of Kentucky, and even more recently installed as an assistant professor at Rutgers University. She lists among her research interest “resistance” (she’s for it), “Boundaries” (she’s against them), and “difference” (which she’s for when it’s the right kind, and against when it’s not). She’s also into “non-Euclidian spatialities,” which has little to do with Euclid and a great deal to do with “Race,” “Settler Colonialism,” and “Critical Race Theory.” Continue reading

Splitting Hairs

Christopher Brian Lezynski was sharpening his hatchet last Friday. File, whetstone, honing oil, and, we may suppose, a gem-cutter’s eyepiece. In my mind’s eye I see Mr. Lezynski plucking a hair from his head and preparing to split it. By his side stands his faithful “girlfriend,” her breath bated, her eyes aglow. Continue reading

Hegel’s Christian Aesthetics

Friedrich 01 Morning in the Riesengebirge

Caspar David Friedrich (1774 – 1840): Sunrise in the Riesengebirge (1808)

To my friend Paul Gottfried, by far the most learned man in my ken, and the uncrowned monarch of the American Right.

Like everything by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770 – 1831), the Introductory Lectures on Aesthetics require from the reader no little patience.  Originating as actual lectures – which Hegel delivered to his students at Heidelberg between 1820 and 1826 – the posthumous booklet, edited by H. G. Hotho and first issued in 1835, can nevertheless claim the virtue of brevity, and perhaps beyond that a prose-style as close to accessible as its author ever came.  On the one hand then, the reader’s patience will likely reap him a reward; on the other hand, however, the reader might come away from his exertion slightly disappointed.  The science of aesthetics has to do with art, to be sure, and the Introductory Lectures certainly address the topic of art; but art has to do with beauty, and the Lectures, after a sequence of promising paragraphs in the First Lecture, seem as a whole to give rather short shrift to the topic of beauty.  In the second sentence of the First Lecture, for example, Hegel asserts his remit to be “the wide realm of the beautiful,” whose “province,” he adds, “is Art,” or rather “Fine Art.”  Yet this artistic beauty is not to be confused with “beauty in general,” nor with “the beauty of Nature.”  The latter, Hegel insists, counts only as a “lower” type of beauty, a thesis well calculated to offend the Twenty-First Century’s prevailing “Gaian” view of life – the universe – and everything.  Fine art, by contrast, constitutes the higher type of beauty for the important reason, as Hegel puts it, that fine art “is the beauty that is born – born again, that is – of the mind.”  In consideration of the fact that “the mind and its products are higher than nature and its appearances,” it follows that “the beauty of art is higher than the beauty of nature.”

Hegel continues his argument by elaborating a crucial difference: “Even a silly fancy such as may pass through a man’s head,” he writes, “is higher than any product of nature.”  The most fleeting and unserious of mental, or more properly of spiritual, actions participates in freedom and qualifies itself thereby, even though in a trivial degree only, as self-determining.  The appearances of nature share in no such freedom, but, being as they are “absolutely necessary” and yet at the same time “indifferent,” take their meaning only to the degree that they refer to something else.  Hegel offers as his example the sun, whose pleasant usefulness men acknowledge and praise and in whose lavish light the other manifestations of nature appear to them and become useful, but with which they have, and can have, no spiritual traffic.  The sun remains incapable of acknowledging the men who acknowledge it, however much they might enjoy basking in its effulgence.  Nature is the realm of matter — and matter, eternally mute, never communicates with consciousness but only stimulates the suite of sensuous effects with which consciousness is familiar.  Thus for Hegel, the quality of consciousness makes whatever is truly beautiful, beautiful; and it does so both by imbuing matter with the order that originates in consciousness, including the element of freedom, and by placing the material or sensuous part of the art-object into parenthesis, so that the object becomes a pure image in the spectatorial mind just as it was, before its incarnation in the plastic medium, a pure image in its creator’s mind.

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On the Marches of Europe

In eastern Austria, the rugged Alps subside into green and pleasant hills; and at the frontier, these hills give way to the great Hungarian Plain. Today these hills are a picture of bucolic serenity, a lovely landscape of cozy valleys, tidy villages, sun-dappled forests, and smiling fields. But for more than a thousand years, they were a fatal frontier, a battered and bloody borderland on the ragged marches of Europe.

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Know Your Barbarians

Men raise monuments to remind themselves of things that should not be forgotten. Our word monument comes from the Latin monere, which means to remind; and as G. K. Chesterton told us, we men are ever in need of reminding. Take away our monuments and we become creatures of the present, a rootless, amnesiac breed. Continue reading