Important Essay by Eric L. Gans

In the latest of his ongoing Chronicles of Love and Resentment at the Anthropoetics website, Eric L. Gans discusses the evolution of resentment since the Middle Ages and shows the relation of a debased type of resentment to the reigning victimocracy. Gans argues that only a revival of the concept of sin can deliver us from the galloping totalitarianism of the victim-mentality. I strongly recommend the essay to Orthosphereans.  The link is here: http://www.anthropoetics.ucla.edu/views/vw457.htm

The Allure of Lemuria

I recently set my freshman composition students the task of writing an essay based on each writer’s choice of a topic from a list of two hundred topics. I urged especially that writer-respondents to the assignment should strive to find interest in whatever topics they might select and that they should seek to discover the meanings in their topics. To prove that it could be done, I wrote the following essay on one topic from my own list – “Lemuria.” I append my list at the end of the essay. (TFB)

Continue reading

The Abomination of Desolation of the Marital Altar

The Eucharist is a participation in the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. But then likewise a true wedding is a participation in the Sacrifice at Golgotha.[1] The bed of marriage is properly an altar, where bride and groom offer their lives in a total sacrifice, joining and thereby engendering a new and larger organism.

When Paul says, “I beseech ye, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies, a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service” [Romans 12:1], he refers to the whole and perfectly general motion of the Christian toward his Savior and Lord, howsoever expressed: whether in priesthood, or martyry, or marriage – or at Mass.

The rites of the altar – the bed, the table, the throne – are the basis of society: “Wherever an altar is found, there civilization exists.” And, vice versa: where there is no altar, there is no civilization; no cult, no culture; no culture, no polis.

Continue reading

New Article: From Romanticism to Traditionalism

My essay From Romanticism to Traditionalism appears at Angel Millar’s People of Shambhala website.  The argument is that numerous premises of contemporary Traditionalism find their prototypes in early-Nineteenth Century Romantic Movement.  The essay cites the work of the English lake Poets, especially William Wordsworth and Samuel T. Coleridge, as well as the work of Chateaubriand and Goethe, and of the American “Hudson River School” of painting.  I try to demonstrate the parallelism between Wordsworth’s outlook, or Goethe’s, and the outlook of the founders of Twentieth Century Traditionalism, such as René Guénon and Nicolas Berdyaev.  I offer a sample…

The Romantic subject resembles – or, rather, it anticipates – the Traditionalist subject, as Guénon, Nicolas Berdyaev (1874 – 1948), and others have defined it.  Guénon himself in The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times (1945) characterizes modern man as having “lost the use of the faculties which in normal times allowed him to pass beyond the bounds of the sensible world.”  This loss leaves modern man alienated from “the cosmic manifestation of which he a part”; in Guénon’s analysis modern man assumes “the passive role of a mere spectator” and consumer, which is exactly how Wordsworth saw it.  Of course, Guénon does not write of loss as an accident, but as the logical consequence of choices and schemes traceable to the Enlightenment.  As Wordsworth put it, “We have given our hearts away – a sordid boon.”

According to Berdyaev, writing in The Destiny of Man (1931), “Man is not a fragmentary part of the world but contains the whole riddle of the universe and the solution of it.”  Berdyaev asserts that, contrary to modernity, “man is neither the epistemological subject [of Kant], nor the ‘soul’ of psychology, nor a spirit, nor an ideal value of ethics, logics, or aesthetics”; but, abolishing and overstepping all those reductions, “all spheres of being intersect in man.”  Berdyaev argues that, “Man is a being created by God, fallen away from God and receiving grace from God.”  The prevailing modern view, that of naturalism, “regards man as a product of evolution in the animal world,” but “man’s dynamism springs from freedom and not from necessity”; it follows therefore that “evolution” cannot explain the mystery and centrality of man’s freedom.  When Berdyaev brings “grace” into his discussion, he echoes the original Romantics, whose version of grace was the epiphanic vision, the event answering to a crisis that brings about the conversion of the fallen subject and sets him on the road to true personhood.

Angel Millar has done an exceptional job in presenting the essay.  I take the opportunity here to thank him publicly.

Traditionalism, le Wagnerisme, and Vincent d’Indy

An essay of mine has gone up at Angel Millar’s People of Shambhala website, on the topics of “Traditionalism, le Wagnerisme, and Vincent d’Indy.”  D’Indy (1851 – 1931) was a French and decidedly Catholic composer who responded positively to the innovations of Richard Wagner; he founded the Schola Cantorum, a conservatory in Paris dedicated to the proposition that art is in service to civilization and has a moral as well as an aesthetic role.  D’Indy was a lifelong monarchist and satisfyingly reactionary in most of his views.

I offer a sample –

When in 1894 d’Indy with Charles Bordes and Alexandre Guilmant established the Schola Cantorum, a school for composers and performers that would concentrate on instrumental and orchestral music rather than opera, he began his project of realizing his ideals in a functioning institution that would compete with the other conservatories already in existence.  D’Indy believed in the absoluteness of counterpoint as the basis of compositional excellence; he believed that musician-composers should know not only music but also the history of music – and alongside all that be well grounded in the other arts and the humanities.  D’Indy believed that a truly French music, reflecting France’s Catholic civilization, would find its natural soil in the Gregorian repertory and in regional folk music.  He believed that music should participate in all the central institutions of a society, beginning with the Church, and that in so doing it would contribute to the moral health of the nation.

D’Indy’s emphasis on the regionality of folk-music sources indicates his appreciation that the French nation was forged by the union of distinct smaller polities and local dialects.  Although d’Indy’s own music would become progressively less Teutonic, his ideas about music as a moral and cultural force remain identifiably Wagnerian.

New Article at Pope Center Website

The Pope Center for Higher Education has published my article on harnessing modern technology for traditional purposes in the classroom  –  “The Smart Classroom Meets Wagner.”  I call attention to it in connection with my recent forays into pedagogy, epistemology, and culture here at The Orthosphere.  My thesis is that even badly prepared students can respond intelligently to what we might call high-cultural allure when given the opportunity in a carefully designed context.  In particular I report on their struggle, appreciable and even admirable, to come to terms with Tristan und Isolde.

I offer a sample:

The educational status quo has left my students, who after all are merely a sampling of the contemporary American undergraduate, badly deprived. Their education, even in college, once they get there, leaves them bereft of high-cultural experience.

That is a pity because taste tends to become fixed in late adolescence. They will never respond to esthetic sublimity unless they have an opportunity to experience it. Providentially, the smart classroom enables a few to have that opportunity.

Ernest Bloch and the Prophetic Impulse: Music as Spiritual Protest

Ernest Bloch (1880 – 1959), Swiss-born but American by naturalization, plays tag with the usual categories.  An inheritor and continuator of the European tradition in concert music, he nevertheless made common cause with his adoptive countryman-composers by attempting after 1916 to write music in an idiom that would reflect conditions in the New World to which he had sworn allegiance.  Bloch was also self-consciously a Jewish composer who understood that the vast majority of his potential audience belonged to the Christian-Protestant professions of a largely Anglo-Saxon nation – a challenging rhetorical situation.  Bloch’s Judaism, moreover, was the Judaism, not of the rabbinate, but of the Prophets.  When he “spoke” deliberately in his distinctive American dialect, he did so in the mode of a musical nabi, and like the nabi, he gave voice, as best he could, to the judgment of divinity on the existing offense of humanity’s disorderliness.  For it must be said that Bloch’s music, from his earliest mature compositions, functioned by intention as a protest against the modern world.  Is Bloch one of those “reactionary” composers, whose reputations traditionalists would like to revive?  In many ways, the answer is “yes,” even though during Bloch’s American years his musical style became increasingly less Romantic and noticeably more modern in its motivic terseness and harmonic astringency.  Yet the composer of the late Trombone Symphony (1954) is unmistakably the same as the composer of Schelomo (1916), the “Jewish Rhapsody for Cello and Orchestra” that remains Bloch’s best-known and most-played score.

Continue reading

Sex Matters

The modern instinct is to treat sex as a private matter that is of no real consequence to the body politic, and thus no legitimate concern of the sovereign, or of the public. Against this conservatives argue that sex has all sorts of important consequences for the health and welfare of the body politic, whether demographic, epidemiological, economic, pedagogical, or cultural, so that sexual morality matters to the polis a very great deal, and is therefore a fit concern both of the sovereign and the people.

These sorts of pragmatic objections to liberal social and sexual mores do tell, of course, and heavily. But they don’t begin to get at the immense importance of sex in the long run – the really, really long run, under which the whole history of the universe is like an evening gone.

Continue reading

New Article: When the Majority is really a Mob

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.