Despite the advocacy of conductor and countryman Neeme Järvi and the determination of record-producer Robert von Bahr (founder of the BIS label) in the 1980s, the work of the Estonian-Swedish composer Eduard Tubin (1905 – 1982) remains largely unknown beyond a small coterie of aficionados who take an interest in Baltic and Scandinavian music. Humphrey Searle and Robert Layton in their survey of Twentieth Century Composers: Britain, Scandinavia and the Netherlands (1970) omit to mention Tubin although they devote discussion to a number of his contemporaries in mid-century Sweden such as Hilding Rosenberg (1892 – 1985), Karl-Birger Blomdahl (1916 – 1968), and Allan Pettersson (1911 – 1980). Tubin’s obscurity is a pity because he composed at a level at least as high as that achieved by Rosenberg, Blomdahl, and Pettersson. Indeed, Tubin wrote in an idiom more accessible than any of theirs, being, as one supposes, much less worried than they about his “modern” bona fides. What explains Tubin’s obscurity? It might have something to do with his refugee-expatriate status: He fled Estonia for Sweden after the Soviet invasion in 1944; and while he remained an Estonian nationalist – by reflex, anti-Soviet and anti-Communist – his adoptive country became increasingly accommodationist.
a small amount of it is pleasant and even has benefits. But too much is deadly.
Take this vat of soup on the stove. Since a teaspoon of salt makes the flavor better, let’s add a cup and make it excellent. No, let’s add 10 pounds and make it heavenly.
What? Limit the salt? You must be a racist!
[Inspired by a post by Bruce Charlton.]
I often find the popular debate between Religion™ and Science™ intensely irritating, because almost everyone on both sides seems to take it for granted that if we have (or might someday have) a scientific explanation for something, then we don’t stand in need of a divine explanation for it; so that the only places where God might possibly play a role in our explanatory scheme is in the bits and pieces of the world that science has not yet explained. And this notion of the “God of the Gaps” presupposes that the merely scientific explanation is exhaustively adequate, at least in principle. But that means that the whole debate is skewed from the get go by an implicit presupposition in favor of naturalism, and is therefore founded upon begging the very question that it proposes to answer.
God is not needed first as an explanation of this or that item in the natural order, but rather as an explanation of the fact that there is such a thing as nature in the first place, or that there exists anything at all that might have a nature. If God does not exist, then there can be no explanation of existence per se, or therefore of any of the things that do seem to us actually to exist. If God does not exist, then all we can say of things in the final analysis is that they are what they are, for no particular reason.
Or can we say even that?
Noisy artificial limits of any kind ipso facto engender moral hazard. The classic example is the limited liability corporation, which encourages investors and managers to take risks over and above what they would undertake if their personal liability was not limited. FDIC insurance is another.
But this nomological principle applies everywhere. Wherever a limit is set by men that does not correspond to the limits set by nature and reality, agents are prompted to act as if the artificial limits were the real, natural, true limits: i.e., to lie, even if only to themselves, about what it is prudent or good to do, or else to lend credence to such a lie, and so do wrong, or ill, even if only unwittingly.
My article on Conformism and Crowd-Violence (subtitled “When the Majority is really a Mob”), appearing at Angel Millar’s People of Shambhala website, should appeal to readers of The Orthosphere. The article begins with a discussion of René Girard, specifically of his book I See Satan Fall Like Lightning (2001), from which it moves into a consideration of texts by Seneca (his Seventh Letter) and Saint Augustine (the anecdote of his friend Alypius at the gladiatorial games). Along the way I discuss the parallels between ancient mob-phenomena and what, in modern politics, is called “community organization.” I offer a sample below –
Seneca’s vocabulary anticipates many an observation that Girard makes about the category of the sacred, first that, being collective, the sacred belongs to the mob (that is to the lynch mob) and next that it is contagious. “From the outset of this study,” Girard remarks in Violence and the Sacred, “I have regarded violence as something eminently communicable.” Taking antique discourse seriously where the modern mentality sees it merely as mythic, Girard notes that “at times it is impossible to stay immune from violence.” Again: “The sacred consists of all those forces whose dominance over man increases or seems to increase in proportion to man’s efforts to master them.” From Seneca’s perspective the size of the crowd correlates with its infectiousness, a large crowd being indicative of an especially virulent infection. Rubbing elbows with the vulgate, as Seneca writes, leaves one “bedaubed” by its toxicity. But does Seneca, foreshadowing Girard, associate crowds and violence? The answer is yes and in investigating [the matter] we shall see how Seneca’s discourse differs from Philostratus’ discourse when they both write about theaters and theatrics.
The British writer Colin Wilson (1931 – 2013) died last night in Cornwall just before midnight, local time. Wilson, who became a celebrity at twenty-six on the publication of his first book The Outsider in 1956, was a prolific writer on a wide variety of topics from philosophy, with special attention to existentialism, to literature, history, and the occult. Wilson was never what one might call a traditionalist, but he was an inveterate critic of modernity and a defender of religion against its materialist-positivist detractors. Wilson’s authorship encompassed both fiction and nonfiction. In fiction, he exploited genre-formulas in ingenious ways, as in his first and in many ways most ambitious novel, Ritual in the Dark (1960). His science fiction The Space Vampires was adapted to the silver screen by Tobe Hooper under the title Life Force in the mid-1980s, but the adaptation did little credit to its author. Ritual in the Dark, several times optioned for cinema, regrettably never made it to the screen, large or small. Wilson, an impressive autodidact, developed a core of devoted readers who took many cues from his intellectual independence and admired him for the nonconformist freedom witnessed by his contrarian interests.
An excellent introduction to Wilson’s thinking is the immediate sequel to The Outsider, Religion and the Rebel (1957), whose chapters on literature, history, and philosophy constitute an important polemic against the deadening cultural assumptions of the mid-Twentieth Century. Wilson had befriended Albert Camus just before the latter’s fatal automobile accident. Wilson’s work may be seen as an Anglo-Saxon parallel to Camus’ work although Wilson, in contrast to Camus, was never distracted by politics.
Nearly everyone agrees the period surrounding Vatican II saw great damage done to the Catholic faith, but nearly no one understands why. Much has been said about “ambiguities” in the conciliar texts, their questionable Magisterial status, etc., all of which misses the point: people do not live in a purely abstract, rationalistic sphere of minimalist orthodoxy. Faith rather is lived in a real world of concrete institutions and networks of relations, and if the faith is not fused with that lived reality, then it will not be lived at all. The Council endeavored, in the service of aggiornamento and ecumenism, to destroy the carefully-cultivated synthesis of faith and life that had prevailed for centuries, and this was its primary error: the hubris of thinking that it could dismantle what generations of saints had built over two millennia and replace it with something engineered on the fly in under a decade without expecting disastrous consequences.
The dynamic of ignoring the practical realities to fixate on extraneous questions of doctrine has played out too with Pope Francis’ recent Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium. While some folk are functionally apostasizing over a throwaway line about the Old Covenant, the poison was baked into the cake at section 32:
Since I am called to put into practice what I ask of others, I too must think about a conversion of the papacy. It is my duty, as the Bishop of Rome, to be open to suggestions which can help make the exercise of my ministry more faithful to the meaning which Jesus Christ wished to give it and to the present needs of evangelization. Pope John Paul II asked for help in finding “a way of exercising the primacy which, while in no way renouncing what is essential to its mission, is nonetheless open to a new situation”. We have made little progress in this regard. The papacy and the central structures of the universal Church also need to hear the call to pastoral conversion. The Second Vatican Council stated that, like the ancient patriarchal Churches, episcopal conferences are in a position “to contribute in many and fruitful ways to the concrete realization of the collegial spirit”. Yet this desire has not been fully realized, since a juridical status of episcopal conferences which would see them as subjects of specific attributions, including genuine doctrinal authority, has not yet been sufficiently elaborated. Excessive centralization, rather than proving helpful, complicates the Church’s life and her missionary outreach.
He wants, in other words, to uproot the subsidiary administrative model of at least two centuries with an Orthodox-style synodal model alien to our patrimony, devolving doctrinal and presumably liturgical authority to corrupt episcopal conferences invented five minutes ago. Can you imagine these clowns with yet more power? If Francis gets his way, the forces of schism will positively explode. Worse, synodality will make it nearly impossible to undo the damage foisted on the Church through the very same central administrative organs he now wants to dismantle. I am coming to think we will never live to see things righted.
I recommend Angel Millar’s article on Strength, Spirituality, and Masculinity against Materialism at his People of Shambhala website. Millar argues that modern men have largely relinquished spirituality, ceding it by default to women who have, naturally, feminized and caricatured it.
I’m in the habit of tuning out homilies nowadays, especially at daily Mass, but a few weeks ago the homilist — a newly-minted permanent deacon — caught my attention in talking about joy. He said something to the effect that he wanted to punch people who approach the Eucharist with insufficient joyfulness, with too much solemnity and reverence.
Normally I’d tune that out, too, except that it was the third or fourth time I’d heard a homilist express a nearly-identical sentiment in the last two years. Such is the new pastorality: get with the program or eat linoleum.
It occurred to me then that the Church, in its modern zeal to be seen as joyful, has in practice left behind those who are mourning, brokenhearted, clinically depressed, or just plain dour, who have as much a right to be at Mass as anyone else. Looking around I noticed many of the people in attendance at that daily Mass were aging: nearly all of them had gray hair, many had walkers and canes, etc. It would not be unreasonable to think that many of them had reason for great personal sadness, with children outgrowing their need for their parents or falling away from the Christian faith completely, spouses and other family members dying, health failing, finances tightening, etc. I don’t generally pay attention to the communion lines but I wonder how many who were otherwise well-disposed to receive communion took the homilist’s chastising personally and elected to remain in the pews.
Life is filled with joys, and faith, hope, and charity offer many more; but it is filled, too, with sorrows, and those sorrows are not always of a purely natural character. Blessed are those who mourn, Christ tells us from the pages of Scripture. Mourning and weeping in this valley of tears, we cry out to the Blessed Virgin. With tears do I water my couch, bemoans the Psalmist. The Church forgets that to her own detriment, and at the risk of making her ‘joy’ look hollow and alien and inauthentic. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; is it much to ask that his shepherds be, as well?
An ancillary note: we often hear talk about ‘clericalism’ given our new Holy Father’s inclinations. What I described above is a kind of clericalism in that it involves clerics exhibiting an unseemly fixation on external appearances to the exclusion and neglect of more meaningful interior realities. There’s an older and more immediately recognizable word for that kind of clericalism, and it’s ‘Pharisaism.’
I am humbled and pleased that the editors of The New York Review of Science Fiction have given the feature position to my article on William Olaf Stapledon, “Contact, Communion, and the Marriage of Minds,” in the latest number of their publication. “Contact” is the much-edited version of the talk that I gave last July at “Doxacon,” a colloquium on the crossroads of science fiction and religion. I believe that the essay will be of interest to readers of The Orthosphere. Stapledon was a greatly conflicted thinker, tempted by atheism, but unable to shake his profound intuition that the universe is not reducible to matter and the void; that existence has a divine ground. His fiction and non-fiction alike address the issue. I try to put Stapledon, as the subtitle of the essay puts it, “in context.” The context is the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence, which I interpret as, partly, a religious displacement.
I offer an extract below –
Once the investigator grasps Flammarion and Lowell, along with the whole of late-Romantic plurality discourse, in this way [as a vestige of Medieval cosmology,] much of the peculiarity in their exposition begins to make sense. When Flammarion seems to adhere to a Darwinian vocabulary, making free use of the term evolution, he never means what Darwin or Darwin’s materialist followers meant by the term. On the contrary, the evolution that concerns Flammarion is that of mind, which he regards as the self-articulation at the microcosmic level of the macrocosmic consciousness – Dieu dans la Nature. In a Times story for 10 November 1910, Flammarion told the reporter, “I believe there are denizens on Mars, and that they are superior to us.” Flammarion opines that the Martians “ought to resemble [what humanity] will be several million years hence, inasmuch as Mars is a much older planet than the earth.” Flammarion believes that the Martians have made several attempts to communicate with humanity, the first one “hundreds of thousands of years ago” and the last one “a few thousand years ago.”
Lowell, who knew Flammarion, writes in the same vein. In his three-part Atlantic article from the summer of 1895 (June, July, August), he argues that the phenomenon of the canals “points to a highly intelligent mind behind it.” Martian sentience must take the form of “a mind… of considerably more comprehensiveness” than the human. Such things as “party politics,” Lowell insists, “have had no part” in the elaboration of the system of planetary irrigation – the canals whose courses Lowell had so painstakingly mapped.
According to Lowell, the very study of Mars exerts a spiritually transforming effect on him who undertakes it. He learns to “look at things from a standpoint raised above our local point of view,” to “free our minds at least from the shackles that of necessity tether our bodies,” and to “recognize the possibility of others in the same light that we do the certainty of ourselves.” As Lowell writes in Mars as the Abode of Life, “Turning to Mars with quickened sense, we witness an astounding thing,” a globe “where life at the present moment would likely be of a high order.”In the plurality discourse of the fin-de-siècle, then, the reader will detect the stubborn persistence of a cosmological view that actual modern science tells us is an outmoded and distinctly unscientific way of comprehending the celestial universe. This late-Medieval way of thinking cosmologically sees the universe as creation; it sees the heavens as instinct with symbolic significance, pervaded by mind in the form of the plural, extraterrestrial humanities, and as responsive – at least potentially – to the effort, not only to establish contact with those humanities, but to come into communion with the sum and total of their shared consciousness.