Hopeless, Sick and Appalling Fear, or, The Meaning of ‘Hideous Strength’

“Its claws were imbedded in every country.”

“The Hideous Strength holds all this earth in its fist to squeeze as it wishes”

C. S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength (1945)

The word hideous has been drained of meaning by generations of women who have used it as a pejorative epithet in their frivolous chatter about dresses and hair.  Chattering women did the same thing to the word ghastly, but that is another story.  Hideous is not, properly, a synonym for ugly.   Its root meaning and exact synonym is horrible.  And, once again, horrible does not properly mean superlatively bad.  Horrible means generative of a hopeless, sick, and appalling fear. Continue reading

The Candidate of NICE

CS Lewis is a genius and a prophet: That Hideous Strength continues its uncanny prediction of our present predicaments. Last time around, our adversaries nominated Fairy Hardcastle for the Presidency. This time, they propose Deputy Director Wither:

… Mark noticed that the door was not quite shut. He ventured to push it open a little further and saw [Deputy Director Wither] sitting inside with his back to the door. “Excuse me, Sir,” said Mark. “Might I speak to you for a few minutes?” There was no answer. “Excuse me, Sir,” said Mark in a louder voice, but the figure neither spoke nor moved. With some hesitation, Mark went into the room and walked around to the other side of the desk; but when he turned to look at Wither he caught his breath, for he thought he was looking into the face of a corpse. A moment later he recognised his mistake. In the stillness of the room he could hear the man breathing. He was not even asleep, for his eyes were open. He was not unconscious, for his eyes rested momentarily on Mark and then looked away. “I beg your pardon, Sir,” began Mark and then stopped. The Deputy Director was not listening. He was so far from listening that Mark felt an insane doubt whether he was there at all, whether the soul of the Deputy Director were not floating far away, spreading and dissipating itself like a gas through formless and lightless worlds, waste lands and lumber rooms of the universe. What looked out of those pale watery eyes was, in a sense, infinity – the shapeless and the interminable. … It was impossible to speak to a face like that. Yet it seemed impossible also to get out of the room, for the man had seen him. Mark was afraid; it was so unlike any experience he had ever had before.

When at last Mr. Wither spoke, his eyes were not fixed on Mark, but on some remote point beyond him, beyond the window, perhaps in the sky.

“I know who it is,” said Wither. “Your name is Studdock. What do you mean by coming here? You had better have stayed outside. Go away.”

… the mode of consciousness [the Deputy Director] experienced at most hours of day or night had long ceased to be exactly like what other men call waking. He had learned to withdraw most of his consciousness from the task of living, to conduct business, even, with only a quarter of his mind. Colours, tastes, smells and tactual sensations no doubt bombarded his physical senses in the normal manner: they did not now reach his ego. The manner and outward attitude to men which he had adopted half a century ago were now an organisation which functioned almost independently like a gramophone and to which he could hand over his whole routine of interviews and committees.

Hearing about That Hideous Strength is spooky. Reading the book is, yet again, dreadful. God send us Merlinus Ambrosianus, and for that matter Arthur. God send us the oyéresu.

Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Ephesians 6: 11-17

NB: that we wrestle at bottom against principalities, powers, and rulers of the darkness of this world, and against spiritual wickedness in the High Places – against demons – does not mean that we do not wrestle also with their corporeal slaves and instruments, such as Wither or Hardcastle. We do. Paul’s point is not that the flesh and blood do not matter, but rather that they are not the crux of the issue. Nevertheless is it ever the case that when push comes to shove for beings corporeal such as we, the adversary is generally known first to us bodily. If we cannot defeat his bodily incorporations, we have no chance whatever against the motivating spirits thereof; to fight one is to fight the other.

Act then outwardly, in the political realms, to be sure, as much as is in your poor power. But, do not omit to pray, and to fast. Therein lies your greatest power; for, when we struggle to live ourselves lives that are holy and good, we struggle with the very same demons who threaten our outward and social world. Defeat them in yourself even once, and you defeat and weaken them at the root of all their outward action, to the benefit of all people.

To defeat the Enemy in and with and by your heart is to have done all.

To war, then. Deus vult.

Super-Spreaders of Iatrogenic Stupidity

“What’s all the noisy jargon of the schools,
But idle nonsense of laborious fools.”

John Pomfret, “Reason” (1700)

“Have I not known all earthly vanities?
Learned the inane, and taught inanities.” 

Goethe, Faust (1829)

Some people are congenitally stupid, others stupid in consequence of a stupefying environment.  Of all stupefying environments, the schools are most insidious because their ostensible purpose is to cure stupidity.  This is why I call the stupidity peculiar and endemic to scholars, iatrogenic stupidity.  This follows the model of iatrogenic diseases, which are transmitted by way of doctors and their hospitals, iatros being the Greek name for a doctor (think pediatrician) Continue reading

Ibsen’s Unknown Masterpiece, Part II

Genric Ippolitovich Semiradsky (1843 - 1902) - Julian the Apostate (1889)

Genric Ippolitovich Semiradsky (1843 – 1902): Julian the Apostate (1889)

Part I of “Ibsen’s Unknown Masterpiece” explores the relevance of Caesar and Galilean (also called Emperor and Galilean – completed in 1873) to the critique of modernity.  The fact that Ibsen belongs to the modern dispensation complicates the interpretation, but, like his contemporary Friedrich Nietzsche, Ibsen, despite his modernity, could also conduct a critique of the age that he inhabited.  Ibsen is something of an anti-modern modern, a not infrequent phenomenon.  Ibsen’s Julian, the noteworthy Apostate Emperor of the late Fourth Century, behaves like a modern ideologue: He pursues his conviction fanatically, so much so, that he constructs around himself an impermeable barrier to exclude the actual consequences of his action.  Julian, in both Ibsen’s drama and the historical account, from which Ibsen drew, was a religio-political idealist who became increasingly convinced that he could transform the world so that it corresponded to his utopian vision.  Julian’s reaction against Christianity had mainly to do with the murderous corruption of his cousin, Constantius II.  The homicidal Cesar became identified in Julian’s mind with the God of Peace whom the Emperor hypocritically worshipped, but Ibsen sees something more profound than that.  Julian’s rebellion is a rebellion against reality.  He dislikes the constitution of the world as though it were his enemy, and deludes himself into thinking that he can annul it by ritual conjuration.  He deludes himself again into thinking that he is the superman promised by the hucksters of mysticism.  Like the play itself, “Ibsen’s Unknown Masterpiece” falls into two parts: Part I expounds the notions listed above; Part II, Julian’s descent into a type of Gnostic madness that, in its manifestation as imperial policy, wreaks havoc on early Byzantine society.

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Toward a pious reception of Fratelli Tutti

On a first reading, Pope Francis’ new encyclical is a disgrace, an incoherent mess of cliches, undefined terms, libelous mischaracterization of political opponents, and apparent contradictions.  Naturally, as a loyal son of the Church, I wish for everyone to receive the words of the Holy Father with gratitude and docility, so I would entreat everyone when reading this statement of the Vicar of Christ to be mindful of the pope’s distinctive mode of communication.

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Ibsen’s Unknown Masterpiece, Part I

Edward Armitage   Julian the Apostate presiding at a conference of sectarian   1875

Edward Armitage (1817 – 1896): Julian the Apostate Presiding at the Conference of Sectarians (1879)
The same God [who] gave the throne to Constantine the Christian [gave it also] to Julian the Apostate.  Julian had exceptional endowments, perverted by sacrilegious and abominable superstition working through a love of domination…  Confident of… victory, he burnt his ships carrying essential food supplies.  Then, pressing on feverishly with his inordinate designs he paid the just price for his rashness when he was slain, leaving his army destitute, in enemy territory.  (Augustine, City of God, V.21)[i]
I work every day at Julianus Apostata, and hope to have the whole book finished by the end of the present year…  It is part of my own spiritual life which I am putting into this book; what I depict, I have, under different conditions, gone through myself; and the historical subject chosen has a much more intimate connection with the movements of our own time than one might first imagine.  (Henrik Ibsen to Edmund Gosse, Dresden, 14 October 1872)[ii]

Augustine’s City of God would have been one of the sources – along with the works of Libanius, Eunapius, Ammianus, and of the Emperor Julian himself, all likely in German translation – on which drew the Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen (1828 – 1906) in the composition of his epic drama in two parts Emperor and Galilean (1873), begun in Dresden during the year of the Franco-Prussian War.[iii]  The sources are important to an understanding of Emperor because of the historical parallelism that Ibsen assumes between his own time and Julian’s epochal Fourth Century.  The religious apocalypse of Julian’s age Ibsen sees as prefiguring the political apocalypse of the strife-ridden Nineteenth Century.  Ibsen understands both the Gnosticism of Julian’s abortive pagan revival and the Left Hegelianism of the post-Hegelian decades as episodes of an on-going ideological distortion of reality.  Against every prejudice that one harbors about him (that he is “liberal,” “progressive”), Ibsen writes into his play, not Julian’s assessment of Christian orthodoxy, but Augustine’s orthodox assessment of Julian.  Ibsen rejects all revolutionary millennialism as inimical to life and to happiness.  Not that Ibsen has a formula for happiness.  Happiness goes missing in Ibsen’s authorship with one exception, The Lady from the Sea (1888).  It is important, then, in order to come to grips with Ibsen’s epic drama, first to grasp Augustine’s canny view of the Apostate Emperor – a most unhappy man or so the historical record would lead one to believe.

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