Friday, April 18, 2014

Not So the Thief Was Moved

Good Friday
by Christina Rossetti


Am I a stone, and not a sheep,
That I can stand, O Christ, beneath Thy cross,
To number drop by drop Thy blood's slow loss,
And yet not weep?

Not so those women loved
Who with exceeding grief lamented Thee;
Not so fallen Peter weeping bitterly;
Not so the thief was moved;

Not so the Sun and Moon
Which hid their faces in a starless sky,
A horror of great darkness at broad noon--
I, only I.

Yet give not o'er,
But seek Thy sheep, true Shepherd of the flock;
Greater than Moses, turn and look once more
And smite a rock.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Government Ethics Crossword

Today we looked at government ethics in my Ethics course. It's a brief little glance as they get their major projects ready, so it's not intended to be a heavy-lifting class. We look briefly at the civil service, and at the Pendleton Act and why it developed, and I give them some standard training materials used by the U. S. Office of Government Ethics for ethics training and (very briefly) discuss them. And then I have them break into groups and do this crossword puzzle (PDF), which at one time was regularly used as a training tool -- it's slightly dated at this point, being a few years old, but still gives a sense of what is done to avoid conflicts of interest at the civil service level.

18 Down is the clue, "Once you receive ethics advice, _________ it" (six letters), and my students (some of whom work for companies that do contracting for government and so are familiar with complications involved in these matters) joked that the answer was "forget".

Chrysologus for Lent XLIII

Pray, brothers, that we also may die to the vices and be buried to temporal vanities, so that we may rise to eternity in Christ, and be found worthy of being placed on his right and hearing: "Come, blessed of my Father, receive teh kingdom which has been prepared for you from the beginning of the world."

Sermon 82, section 4. And this brings it to the end.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Wild for the Hunter's Roving

Temegami
by Archibald Lampman


Far in the grim Northwest beyond the lines
That turn the rivers eastward to the sea,
Set with a thousand islands, crowned with pines,
Lies the deep water, wild Temagami:
Wild for the hunter's roving, and the use
Of trappers in its dark and trackless vales,
Wild with the trampling of the giant moose,
And the weird magic of old Indian tales.
All day with steady paddles toward the west
Our heavy-laden long canoe we pressed:
All day we saw the thunder-travelled sky
Purpled with storm in many a trailing tress,
And saw at eve the broken sunset die
In crimson on the silent wilderness.

Chrysologus for Lent XLII

And if, brothers, the voice of God, the trumpet of Christ, throughout the course of days, months, seasons, and years, calls, retracts, brings out, brings back, restores, orders to be, causes not to be, consigns to death, and restores to life, why might it not be able to do once for us what it always does for everything else? Or does the divine power lose its strength only when it comes to us, solely for whose benefit God's majesty has performed everything that has just been mentioned? O man, if all these things come back to life again from their death for you, why will you not come back to life from your death for God?

Sermon 103, section 3.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The CIA and Doctor Zhivago

The CIA has recently declassified documents relevant to its role in the publication of Doctor Zhivago:

WASHINGTON, DC -- The Central Intelligence Agency on Friday, April 11th posted to its public website nearly 100 declassified documents that detail the CIA’s role in publishing the first Russian-language edition of Doctor Zhivago after the book had been banned in the Soviet Union. The 1958 publication of Boris Pasternak’s iconic novel in Russian gave people within the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe the opportunity to read the book for the first time.


The point was to provoke the Russian people into wondering what was wrong with their government that a major book by one of their greatest living authors was available everywhere except in the Soviet Union. That sounds rather a roundabout strategy, but it turned out to be reasonably successful -- it led to Pasternak winning the Nobel Prize for literature and the novel being a worldwide phenomenon, which provided the CIA what it needed to start funneling copies into the Soviet Union on the black market. Indeed, it was almost too successful; so much attention guaranteed that people started tracing back sources and suspected that the CIA had a hand in it. The National Post has an article discussing the matter.

Chrysologus for Lent XLI

Peter denies, John flees, Thomas doubts, all forsake him: unless Christ had granted forgiveness for these transgressions by his peace, even Peter, who was the first in rank of all of them, would be considered inferior, and would perhaps be undeserving of his subsequent elevation to the primacy.

Sermon 84, section 5

Monday, April 14, 2014

Two Poem Re-Drafts

A Meditation on Reading the Analects

Ruler's authority, wind-like;
subject's authority, grass-like:
wind blows, grass bends.

Not governing oneself,
not governing others:
ungoverning here, ungoverning there.

Prince as prince,
minister, minister:
that is government.

Untiringly to remember,
unwaveringly to practice:
that is government.

To accept wise counsel,
to exalt good character:
that is government.

To bless the near,
to lure the far:
that is government.

Unrushing and not niggling,
pardoning with ease:
that is government.

The unturning star
turning all stars:
that is government.

Donder-thunder-donner-rain

Donder-thunder-donner-rain:
Clouds grow dark, grumble, crash;
tongues of storm, sparks of light
charge recklessly across the clouds,
bolts on black breaking night,
cracking, creasing, sky and mind
with clarity of fire.

Rushing, roaring winds inspire
rains in pouring, thoughts in streams,
endless drops that drip from heaven,
washing, wishing, on the streets.
Silence drenches rain-swept pathways;
clouds alone still have their say:
Donder-thunder-donner-rain.

Fortnightly Book, April 13

It might well be a busy two weeks -- I'm already behind on quite a few things -- so I need a re-read or something relatively unchallenging. So I've decided to go with something I haven't read for some years.

You might remember from the latter part of Little Women some of the story of Jo's struggles to write. One of the more vivid parts of that story consists of Jo writing 'potboilers' for newspapers, which intersects with her early interactions with Professor Bhaer; he provokes and encourages her to think of herself as capable of more, one of the signs that he is very good for her. Alcott knew something of potboiler-writing, both why one would do it and why it might drag one down, because she had by that point been a potboiler-writer, usually under the pen-name "A. M. Barnard", for quite some time. The fortnightly book is one of these potboilers: A Long Fatal Love Chase.

Alcott had been asked by her publisher to write a sensational work of twenty-four chapters in which the end of every second chapter introduces some hook to keep the reader reading. She wrote A Modern Mephistopheles: or The Fatal Love Chase in two months, drawing on her recent year-long trip to Europe. It was rejected, however, as too long and too sensational. It certainly does hit all the marks for sensationalism for the day, whether it be bigamy or suicide or a handsome Catholic priest who isn't a villain. Alcott worked on revising it, eventually using the main title for a completely different work, one which is essentially a retelling of Faust, The book was never published, however, until Kent Bicknell published it in 1995, in its pre-revision form, as A Long Fatal Love Chase. I picked it up shortly after it came out; it was a quite vigorous story, and it will be interesting to reflect on it here in two weeks' time.

One often finds people contrasting the work with Little Women and commenting on its strong, independent heroine. I think this is a point on which contemporary values end up distorting the reading, somewhat as if one were to read Pride and Prejudice and conclude that Lydia is the strong, independent woman rather than Elizabeth. Rosamond, the main character of A Long Fatal Love Chase, is on practically every score weaker and more dependent than the March sisters. She is strong-willed, yes, but her primary free choice consists of putting herself entirely into the power of a very dangerous man, a situation from which she stands no chance of extricating herself without the help of very brave men. Her 'year of freedom' is the Faustian bargain intimated by the repeated echoes of Goethe throughout the work: she receives nothing from Phillip Tempest but an illusory freedom and status as a pet and a toy. Her entire story is of moving from depending on one man to depending on another. For all that, she is a vividly written character in an interesting story, in which she learns the importance of "the serenity of a true heart strong to love, patient to wait" (p. 346). It is love and patience, however, not the impetuosity and self-will, that holds the key to strength and independence, and it is learning it, however slowly and tragically, that makes Rosamond stand out from legions of sensational women characters coming to tragic ends.

If it turns out that this next two weeks is much less busy than I'm expecting, I'll add Alcott's Faust retelling, A Modern Mephistopheles, to this one. But I'm not promising anything on that score.

***

Louisa May Alcott, A Long Fatal Love Chase. Dell (New York: 1995).

Chrysologus for Lent XL

Pray, brothers, that the angel may descend now and roll away all hardness from our heart, and remove the barriers to our understanding, and show that Christ has also risen out of our mental limitations, since just as that heart is heaven in which Christ lives and reigns, so too that breast is a tomb in which Christ is still held to be dead and buried. Just as we believe that Christ's death occurred, so too must we believe that it is entirely a thing of the past. Christ as Man suffered, died, and was buried; he is, lives, reigns, continues, and remains forever as God.

Sermon 75, section 4.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Willa Cather, My Antonia

Introduction

Opening Passage: The story has an introduction in which an unnamed female narrator, representing Cather, introduces Jim Burden, the primary narrator of the story, but Burden's manuscript is the major beginning of the work.

I first heard of Ántonia on what seemed to me an interminable journey across the great midland plain of North America. I was ten years old then; I had lost both my father and mother within a year, and my Virginia relatives were sending me out to my grandparents, who lived in Nebraska. I travelled in the care of a mountain boy, Jake Marpole, one of the 'hands' on my father's old farm under the Blue Ridge, who was now going West to work for my grandfather. Jake's experience of the world was not much wider than mine. He had never been in a railway train until the morning when we set out together to try our fortunes in a new world.

Summary: The epigraph for My Ántonia is from Virgil's Georgics, a line that will be found as well in the main body of the text: Optima dies...prima fugit, "The best days flee first." The combination of nostalgia and reflection on the life in the country represented by this quotation from Virgil's pastoral summarizes the book very well.

The narrator, Jim Burden, arrived on the prairie as a young boy, and there in the frontier lands he discovers a wild mix of immigrants: Swedes, Norwegians, Bohemians, and the like. Among the Bohemians he meets a young girl, slightly older than he, Ántonia Shimerda, and begins a lifelong friendship. Much of the story is about Burden remembering Ántonia as she grows from an immigrant country girl on the farm to a "hired girl" in the city acting as governess and housekeeper while she and other girls her age become a little crazy for dances. Then Burden goes off to university and Ántonia falls in love with a man, Larry Donovan, who abandons with her a baby before they even marry. And it ends with Burden reuniting with Ántonia, who is now married and on a farm with ten or eleven children. It's a simple enough story. The major dramatic point, Ántonia's being abandoned, is entirely offstage, because this is not a dramatic story but a nostalgic one. When we think back on the stories of our lives, we do not think in terms of climactic plots and denouements, nor rising and falling action; we remember little doings and happenings that flow into bigger doings and happenings as they fade away in memory and evidence. Hopes and dreams burgeon, constantly changing, some leading to good things and some dissipating like clouds, and the point is not some specific struggle or profound crisis but instead layers and layers of stories interwoven with each other.

At one point Burden says of Ántonia, "Ántonia had always been one to leave images in the mind that did not fade—that grew stronger with time.... She lent herself to immemorial human attitudes which we recognize by instinct as universal and true." And, as he continues, what this means is that she -- and by extension her story -- "somehow revealed the meaning in common things." Human lives are like that; we live well when the goodness of common things is brought out by our lives, as if our lives consisted of planting and tending and harvesting meaning in the simple things of the world. Ántonia's story is not some wild, romantic adventure; it is the kind of story that people live everyday. Btu that's the point, of course. It's fitting that as the story nears its end Burden and Ántonia meet again to tell stories over old pictures and memories. Those kinds of stories are not exciting creative adventures; they are usually not 'original' in any rigorous sense of the word, just being tales of ordinary things. But they are the most fundamental stories of human life, the true heart of human story, not artificial entertainments, but the way we naturally tell the tales of our own lives.

Favorite Passage:

Before I could sit down in the chair she offered me, the miracle happened; one of those quiet moments that clutch the heart, and take more courage than the noisy, excited passages in life. Antonia came in and stood before me; a stalwart, brown woman, flat-chested, her curly brown hair a little grizzled. It was a shock, of course. It always is, to meet people after long years, especially if they have lived as much and as hard as this woman had. We stood looking at each other. The eyes that peered anxiously at me were—simply Antonia's eyes. I had seen no others like them since I looked into them last, though I had looked at so many thousands of human faces. As I confronted her, the changes grew less apparent to me, her identity stronger. She was there, in the full vigour of her personality, battered but not diminished, looking at me, speaking to me in the husky, breathy voice I remembered so well.

Recommendation: Very good and highly recommended.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Error of Cowards

The sole philosophy open to those who doubt the possibility of truth is absolute silence--even mental. That is to say, as Aristotle points out, such men must make themselves vegetables. No doubt reason often errs, especially in the highest matters, and, as Cicero said long ago, there is no nonsense in the world which has not found some philosopher to maintain it, so difficult is it to attain truth. But it is the error of cowards to mistake a difficulty for an impossibility.

Jacques Maritain, An Introduction to Philosophy, Sheed and Ward (New York: 1933) p. 181.

Chrysologus for Lent XXXIX

Whoever is free from captivity to this mammon, and is no longer weighed down under the cruel burden of money, stands securely with his vantage point in heaven, and from there looks down over the mammon which is holding sway over the world and the worldly with a tyrant's fury.

It holds sway over nations, it gives orders to kingdoms, it wages wars, it equips warriors, it traffics in blood, it transacts death, it threatens homelands, it destroys cities, it conquers peoples, it attacks fortresses, it puts citizens in an uproar, it presides over the marketplace, it wipes out justice, it confuses right and wrong, and by aiming directly at morality it assails one's integrity, it violates truth, it eviscerates one's reputation, it wreaks havoc on one's honor, it dissolves affections, it removes innocence, it keeps compassion buried, it severs relationships, it does not permit friendship. And why should I say more? This is mammon: the master of injustice, since it is unjust in the power it wields over human bodies and minds.

Sermon 126, section 5.