There be dragons!

Monday, April 28, 2008

Eros Two

There is a place where the neck meets the shoulder,
Where the shadow of form undulates on the wave;
A place in the mesa smoothed out by the rain,
The arroyo that runs through the ribbons of clay.

There is a place where the evening light plays,
Where the blood and the bone lie close to the skin;
A coolness of shade where the incense pools,
And the lilac scent swims in the head.

There is a place of a golden brown red,
Made bright by the beat of her pulsating heart;
When she flushes with color and her breath comes in gasps.
There where the heavenly meets the horizon

There where the night joins with the dawn
There where the mortal and immortal meet
Where the river of life links to the sea

There would I kiss her.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

A recent exchange with a student

Hi Mr.Rex,
I was wondering if I could have a moment of your time to ask a question about today's discussion, if it's not too much trouble that is. I wasn't able to ask this during class because we were short on time. Anyways, I don't think Socrates' definition works. There seems to be (to me at least) a large hole in his statement "Justice is minding one's own business". This hole that I'm speaking of has to do with "one's own business"; Socrates states that each man should stick with his trade, for a farmer that is
to farm, for a ruler it is to rule, however how do these men know what their trades are? It seems Socrates is saying that each man is born for a certain part of life, but what happens should men reject their role in life? It would create a need for a myth that gives men incentive to follow said roles. The myth I am speaking of is "The Noble Lie", and as we have questioned before, what happens when a man discovers that all he has believed in is a myth? It would lead to the whole definition of Justice being based off of a lie. When presented with even a slight doubt in the myth wouldn't "one's own business" be thrown into question? Wouldn't masses of men question why they should live a "good" life and question the definition of "good"? Would this cause the act of Justice (if Justice can be put into an act) to show itself to be "good" in and of itself? Thank you for your time,
Arthur Student

Lots of excellent questions here, Arthur.
Remember the quotation from John Henry Cardinal Newman "A thousand questions do not amount to one doubt."
There are three parts to the answer:

1. recall that the division of the city is in order to see the division in the soul. Consequently, "minding one's business" is a metaphor for balance within the soul. If the appetitive desires drive the nourishment and continuation of the body they are in proportion and harmonious. If they rule the rest of the person there is chaos and slavery. So "the business" in this metaphor is really about how does one work toward balance of the three realms within the soul? the 'noble lie' therefore of the metals is told in order that the citizens in the metaphor do their jobs well; but it is, in the meaning of the metaphor, a story told to create balance within the soul.

2. second we need to ask the more profound question of "what is truth?" "what is lie?" If by truth we mean empirical truth only (i.e. that which can be measured, tested, held in the hand) then we have a big problem b/c no story, no words, conversations, loves, or metaphysical realities can ultimately be measured in this post-Enlightenment manner. If, however, we mean a proximity btwn the image and the reality it conveys (which is the meaning of truth Aquinas uses) then the story is true b/c it embodies a reality even if it never happened historically. Lord of the Rings is "true" in this sense, Iliad is "true" in this sense, "Macbeth" is true in this sense. The truth or lie of the story can be discussed, examined, thought about, but its impact is felt in the soul to a much greater level than if it were merely quantifiable by hard evidence (soul itself is another one of those noble lies, BTW - show an ounce of soul or measure its contents!!!!) This realization ought not to stump a person into thinking everything is lie, but rather encourage them to take things far more seriously and pursue what really is true.

3. masses of men ought to question why they should live the good life and should question what the definition of good is. Unfortunately, masses of men do not do just this thing until it is far too late if at all. The noble lie is excellent for growing up strong in understanding of certain things, but at some point it is thrown into crisis b/c the "lie" part outweighs the "noble" part. Most men, at this point, throw caution to the winds and abandon all they have previously held true (getting a Mazarati, or a new girlfriend, or a new apartment) a phenomenon commonly referred to as a "mid-life crisis." I would suggest that it is far more beneficial for this crisis to occur early, with proper training, to see that the "noble lies" which we have heard are only lies in that they are unprovable by empirical evidence and that nobility is still something to be striven for such that we might honorably deal with life and manfully face death.

I hope this helps answer your very good questions.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Eros One

In every young girl lies a beating heart
And fire in the veins
I feel the rhythm and the pulse of her heat
I scent the rain

The cottonwood trees that rustle and weep
And toss in the wind
Give a tympanic gesture of joy to the storm
And remind me of her.

My love like a storm cloud and the indolent air
Comes forth from her home
I sense the rumble of the approaching cataract
The electrical vein.

The windchimes chatter and ring out the change
And toss on the wind
Their tintinabulant gesture of joy
Like a gamalon plays.

In every young girl lies an incense of cloud
And fire in the veins
I feel the rhythm and the heat of the sun
The wood smoke of cedar

The high ridge of Vitinia where the sun warms the grape
And tosses the white wheat
Lies like a daughter in the late evening sun
Where we drank sweet cream.

My love like an afternoon full of the sunlight
After the rains
Brushes her hand cross the nape of her neck
In the sweet spring sweat.

The windchimes chatter and ring out the time
Like a portent of change
Their cheerful ululating gestures of joy
Like long summer days.

In every young girl lies a breaking heart
And fire in the veins
I feel the rhythm as she passes into night
The pillar of wind.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Kabbalic Post

The Jewish Kabbalists present an image of spiritual progression which depicts the manifestation of Infinite light (Qadosh) into the mind of men - called the Sephiroth. Here is a great website explaining it all.

Normally the Sephiroth, or tree of life, is presented thusly;

My contention is that perhaps the original mapping of virtues and vices is somewhat based on this progression. Why, after all, are there only seven of each? Too convenient, esp. if there are more virtues and vices which don't quite fit on the scale (which there are). Such an anomaly would suggest that the early fathers chose seven intentionally and then mapped the, in their opinion, most important vices/virtues correspondingly. If we follow the thought that numbers are qualitative as well as quantitative then the quality of 7 as a prime number is that of power derived from the combination of the earth (4) and the masculine principle of rational thought (3). Thus lucky number 7 is lucky b/c it is the power to alter things on the earth using reason. This reason leads to goods (virtues) and to ills (vices) b/c reason can effect good or ill change. Consequently, can the modes of the Sephiroth be the defining progression that creates the 7 and 7 correlation of the virtues and vices?

Here is a map of that possibility:

Poetry Post

My father always urged me to do something with my poetry. I don't think them all that great, but I decided to put them up on this blog so here is a first.

I also have insights into Odyssey and Jewish Kabbalic thought which I'll try to enter at some time soon (so look for them).

A coarctation soon let it through
The tide of the numinous
A flood inexorable
An ochre of the cardinal
The sun and the moon

A conjunction of the elements
Through the world’s bright aorta
The vesica piscis
That beats within your cage
The sun and the moon

Your little hands
May grow soon to violence
And staining of innocence
From albumen to purpura

We’re all drawn to that original
The penumbral reverie
The solitude of Albion
A sea of bright placidity
The sun and the moon

The images of paradise
That float on foaming inundates
Like welcoming Vesuvius
Soon course through your veins
The sun and the moon

Your little hands
May grow soon to obedience
And silent frigidity
At rest upon your shores

Beneath the spreading sky
And avenues of air
Where the canopy runs shimmering
Above the world revolving
The sun and the moon.

A post mortem

For those of you who do not know, my father is deteriorating rapidly and will probably pass on sometime very soon. His long struggle with cancer is finally over; cancer won the physical, but my father, God bless, won the more important battle. If you do not know my father, I consider him one of the greatest men I've ever known. He's never entered politics, he's never commanded armies, he's never invented gadgets that alter the course of history, nor has he published the definitive North American novel. But my father did two things much more important.

First, he was a dad. He loved my mother and us six children and he spent time with us. In our day and age, such fathers of honor, fidelity and courage are rare. Recently, my son said that "I love my dad b/c he talks to me." Strangely, that is what makes my father so great in my estimation... he talks to me. He engages me as a human being in conversation and thought and has, over the years, become more friend than father.

Second, he was a warrior. I don't know all the demons with which he wrestled, but I know many and am familiar with that most dangerous demon of the abyss. I know what it's like to stare into that nothingness at the heart of human existence, being incapable of a Kierkegaardian leap, and instead cowering at the edge like Kurtz saying "the horror! the horror!" Dad never gave into that. He ran the race, completed the course. Or, to use the other metaphor, he held the line against the attacks of the enemy. When he could have despaired, abandoned all seven of us, thrown away the trappings of civilization and culture and given over to the riptide of popular barbarism he chose instead honor, courage, commitment to us and to honesty. His thought was clear, neither cluttered with acerbic atheist despair, nor clouded by overly pious religious flim flam. Dad was honest and honestly courageous and I find that admirable in any man; most of all in this great friend of mine.

I don't agree with Dylan Thomas in his "Do not go gentle into that good night" that old men should respond with rage when they think about their own oblivion having accomplished nothing. Rage is not the answer. As Lord Peter Wimsey realizes in "Strong Poison" if we give in to that rage to smash things, someone will just come along, clean up the mess and return everything to the same condition it was in before. Rage accomplishes nothing. Nor does our anger at the necessity of death succeed in producing any results. We don't postpone death; nor do we ease our own death so that, like Ivan Ilych, we feel ourselves stuffed into a bag. Death comes. Tempus fugit, nocte venit. Et in Arcadia ego. If it is true that "called or uncalled the God will be there" how does raging against the god effect anything? Certainly, we don't just roll over and die, but rage? no. There is no rage.

All is gift. All is wonder. All is joy. And I am overjoyed in the midst of intense sorrow at losing my friend and father that I have a father/friend to lose. I also don't agree with Hopkins in his "Spring and Fall" that the grief is for myself. It isn't. My father dies without pain of body. The cancer has deteriorated his muscles and b/c he can't get enough nutrition his body is eating itself; eating the muscles that work his limbs. There is no pain (the doctors say) - he just grows weaker and sleepier until he falls asleep and doesn't awaken. So I don't grieve for his pain of body but thank God that he is spared that. Nor do I grieve for his spirit; he has not despaired like Denethor despite having stared into the Palantir for some time. He has remained honorable and loving and good. Nor do I grieve for myself b/c I know that I will die. My own death doesn't cause me any grief, even if the possibility of nothingness, that abyss of Hesiod and Genesis and Kierkegaard, does. So Hopkins is wrong even in his beautiful poetry.

No, my grief is because I love. To love is to feel pain. The second you open yourself to that terrible joy of love you run a great risk. The thing you love will die and no amount of transference to some abstract concept of God will replace your love of temporal things or beings. If you love you will lose and if you lose you will feel pain. The reverse formula is simple. If you do not wish to feel pain simply do not love. Love nothing. Never submit to the sweet joy of honesty and eros. But that is inhuman; it is nothingness, and if the abyss terrifies me this desert of emotional barrenness carries an equal terror. Perhaps they are one and the same, abyss and desert; oblivion - to not be remembered in love - to never love - to cease on the midnight with no pain.

I agree with Hamlet when he says

We defy augury. There ’s a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, ’t is not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come: the readiness is all. Since no man has aught of what he leaves, what is ’t to leave betimes?

My father was ready, had been ready for many years, had made himself ready by the slow, steady giving away of himself in love. When his final moment comes he will have accomplished that spiritual alchemy that transforms the leadenness of our fearful selfish little souls into the gold of love.

No, I am grieved b/c, as my brother put it, I'm selfish and don't want the party to end. But I do think that this is what the Passion of the Christ means; not wanting to let the party end, yet having the courage to endure the pain involved with allowing it to end. All men are mortal. My father is a man. Therefore my father is mortal. Thank God that he is man enough to have joined the human race and leave behind grieving but joyful loved ones.

If this is an encomium then I'll end with a final poem. This from old English, the Battle of Maldon; it was always one of my father's favorites.

Brythwold spoke, grasped his buckler, He was an old comrade, urged the men, He full boldly cheered his soldiers, "Thought must be the harder, heart the keener Spirit shall be more - as our might lessens."