An Article of Possible Interest

Snake in the Garden

Ned May has posted my essay “On the Ontological Sickness” at his website The Gates of Vienna.  The essay is a much rewritten and expanded version of the last article to appear under my name at The Brussels Journal, in December 2014, just before the site became dormant.  On the Ontological Sickness explores the late René Girard’s theory of “mediated desire” and applies it to an analysis of current social trends.  I offer an excerpt:

In I See Satan Fall like Lightning (1996; English edition, 2001), Girard returns to the relation of mimesis and resentment by commenting, in his first chapter, ‘Scandal Must Come,’ on the text of the Tenth Commandment. Girard remarks how the Tenth Commandment calls attention to itself: ‘The tenth and last commandment is distinguished from those preceding it both by its length and its object.’ Where the other commandments prohibit acts, the final one ‘forbids a desire. Girard quotes this version: ‘You shall not covet the house of your neighbor. You shall not covet the wife of your neighbor, nor his male or female slave, nor his ox or his ass, nor anything that belongs to him.’ Girard argues that the slightly archaic character of the verb to covet makes it seem as though the Tenth Commandment only prohibits a species of exotic or exaggerated desire; but this is not so. The noun covetousness in the King James Version means, not exotic or exaggerated desire, but only ordinary desire, experienced by everyone since the Serpent convinced Eve to covet the forbidden fruit. The injunction is so familiar and, apart from the archaic verb, its language is so seemingly banal, that, other than frowning at it as a formally hate-worthy interdiction, the modern self-liberating consciousness might wonder what the fuss is about. Girard often exhibits his exegetical strength in recovering the significance in what has come to seem flat and obvious. He does so again here.

Consider the neighbor. Excepting the subject’s family, the neighbor hovers nearest and most familiarly in the subject’s social awareness. The neighbor reproximates and omnipresents himself like none other. Yet what belongs to the neighbor falls under the constant rebuke of that very property line that so aroused Rousseau’s ire in his study of inequality; whose claimant indeed stood, in Rousseau’s rhetoric, for the total scandal of structured, and therefore of oppressive, society. It is the property-line that makes the neighbor. It is the property-line as injunction that makes the neighbor to loom so large, endowing him with apparent privilege. To the speaker, for example, in Robert Frost’s poem ‘Mending Wall,’ the neighbor appears ‘like an old-stone savage armed’; and when, as the monologist says, ‘we meet to walk the line… we keep the wall between us as we go.’

In an “Afterword,” I explore the relevance of “the ontological sickness” to grasping the essence of Islam.  Ned and Dymphna, as they call themselves, have made a handsome job of formatting and presenting my text.  I would not suppose that I need to remind Orthosphereans what a fine site The Gates of Vienna is; but in the unlikely case that a reader of The Orthosphere is unfamiliar with The Gates, I urge familiarity with it as soon as possible.

A Lamp That Shall Be Put Out

Whosoever curseth his father or his mother                                                 His lamp shall be put out in deep darkness

Proverbs 20: 20

This past December I was standing outside a Louisiana filling station, waiting for my children to do what children do at filling stations on a long drive.  To pass the time, I idly read the portion of the first page of the Times Picayune that was visible through the window of the newspaper dispenser.  This included a headline announcing the New Orleans City Council decision to remove four Confederate monuments from prominent places in that city, an act in line with the flurry of iconoclasm that had been roiling the South since the Charleston shootings earlier that year.  Continue reading

Market Perfection Tends to Monarchy, & Vice Versa

Market perfection requires internalization of all externalities, and enclosure of all commons (these are two different ways of saying the same thing). The last commons to be enclosed is the state. It must be owned, or all its operations will tend to social vitiation.

Realized market perfection entails feudal monarchy. As markets operate and seek the healing of their own failures, then, so will they tend toward feudalism – or, at least, in conditions of high trust and confidence, and of general competence, its cameralist approximate.

Continue reading

The Omega is the Alpha

A thing is in part according to what it does – to its historical consequences. But these cannot be fully known until history is complete – and even then only God may know all things about the world. The character of any mundane event then is a function of the character of the whole System of Nature as it is known in its completion at the eschaton by God.

Each thing is what it is in virtue of the Omega toward which all things tend, and yearn. As the ultimate terminus ad quem of all termination, and so of all terms, the Omega is the basis and matrix of their meanings, and so of their historical operations in the intercourse of creatures.

The Omega is not, of course, in time. He is eternal. The Omega always knows all that is to be known of the history of our System of Nature at its completion in the eschaton. It is in virtue of that knowledge – his Providence – that he provides to each occasion its particular locus in history. The Omega is the creative source of the material occasions that form the objects of his eternal knowledge.

It is in the Omega that each creature has its Alpha.

Architectural Ornament: Dead or Alive

Modernist architecture’s rejection of ornament is understandable. The Modernists had no idea what any of it meant. So it seemed stupid to them. So they excised it.

Ditto for all traditional forms. These were all meaningless to the Modernists. So they rejected them, root and branch. In this, they were aided by developments in the economics and technology of building. But the impoverishment of modern architecture was spiritual before it was material.

*Everything* is spiritual before it is material.

In traditional architecture, ornaments all signify. They all have meanings, and those meanings all terminate ultimately (albeit generally by way of a chain of connotations and denotations) upon the Ultimate and our proper relation to him.

Continue reading

Proposing a New Word: Subscendence

Culminant Man

The coinage subscendence is modeled after the standing term transcendence and is intended to be the antonym of transcendence.  The verbal form would be to subscend; the adjectival form would be subscendent.  The High Middle Ages – expressing themselves in Gothic architecture, in polyphony, and in spiritually heroic narratives such as the Grail sagas and the Divine Comedy – properly deserve to be called transcendent.   The current phase of Modernity – expressing itself in the cinder-block architecture of the strip mall, in amplified beat-based “pop” tunes, and in crude cinematic narratives of sex and violence – properly deserves to be called subscendent.

Continue reading

Sucker Punches and Conservative Intransigence

I recently had a written exchange on political divisions in my academic subfield.  My correspondent was, by the standards of the subfield, a moderate.  By the standards of the contemporary United States, center left.  By the standards of historical humanity, or even educated opinion of the past century, completely barking at the moon.  Party-line hard Left with a vengeance just about sums it up. Continue reading

Roger Scruton

Moreover, howsoever you build your career, one thing will be certain, you are ‘on the left’ politically, vindicated by all the righteous causes (whatever they might be) [I love that bit] of the day, and therefore immune from serious criticism. Your academic discourse is really play, self-expression, jouissance. What matters is where you stand, and in this you are impeccably correct, secure in your academic entitlement, and a worthy recipient of taxes paid by the bourgeoisie.

Roger Scruton, Fools, Frauds and Firebrands. p. 196

The Parisian nonsense machine [Althusser, Lacan, Deleuze] was used to mount a ballistic assault on the bourgeois culture, throwing dense blocks of impenetrable Newspeak over the battlements into the public square of the beseiged city. The effect was to destroy the conversation in which civil society depends. All delicate ideas concerning law, constitution and the roots of civil order, all the ways in which human beings argue over rights and duties, honor their opponents and seek for compromise, were flattened by mathemes, ‘deterritorialized’ and buried beneath the debris of the great Event. This was the turning point in a battle that has now been raging for a century – the battle to take possession of the culture, by defining the intellectual life as an exclusively left-wing preserve.

Roger Scruton, Ibid, p. 197

Alan Sokal’s efforts via the post-modern generator fail to get literary journals to close up shop because something’s being nonsense is beside the point. Of course the editors can’t tell the difference between sincere nonsense and satirical nonsense. How can you parody something that is itself a parody of thought?