From Dust

The splendour of the world in rags

Resplendent darkness hides.  And light

I see the mystery of heaven

That human flesh decays in humble

Waste. A sacred sacrilege

To muck and filth, it burns

With thunder, resounds with fire,

And rages all the more with silent

Wind. Did he lay the foundation

Of earth, a giving grave of life?

Sucking the Blood out of a Mosquito

I considered titling this post ‘On Surrealism’, but ‘Sucking the Blood out of a Mosquito’ sounded less stodgy, so I went with that.  Sorry if it grosses you out a little.  Anyway, here it is:

It was one of the primary goals of the surrealist movement to astonish its audience.  I believe the surrealists have succeeded wonderfully in that regard, but I am not sure to what end.  In terms of the impact, there is little difference between a hare getting a tortoisecut and an apple crawling out of a worm—both are surreal and astonishing, but neither one communicates to us a particular truth or wonder.  It seems that in trying desperately to liberate his expressive palette, the surrealist has actually restricted it and very nearly reduced it to utter meaninglessness.  Instead of reconciling fantasy with reality, he has rejected reality altogether, turning inward to the more vivid but even less satisfying world his of imagination.

Salvador Dalí (1904 – 1989) was a Spanish surrealist painter, and at times, a devout Catholic.  He is probably most famous for painting this:

The Persistence of Memory

Perhaps, considering how iconoclastic a movement he followed, it might astonish us that Dalí was ever a Catholic.  But I think this only reflects how greatly our modern society tends to misunderstand what it means to be Christian.  Unlike Surrealism, Christianity is an ideology with no preference for either novelty or convention.  The Surrealist movement has existed entirely for the sake of revolution—take away the radicalism and the astonishment dies.  But Christianity makes no comment on either the radical or the obvious, and if it harbours any implicit affiliation with tradition, it is that religious tradition exists for the sake of Christianity and not the other way around.  However, while the novelty of Surrealism then poses no incompatibility in itself, there still seems to be a conflict between the Surrealist movement as it originally began and Christianity.  That conflict is the alleged rejection of reason.

As I’ve argued elsewhere, there really is no such thing as illogical thought.  One can believe in the irrational but not experience it.  And this belief is what fuels conventional surrealist art, while also providing its greatest shortcoming.  What I find so uninteresting about an apple crawling out of a worm is not the situation itself, but its implied context.  Surrealism cannot help but take place in a world with no rules, a world with no limitations or conflicts.  But these adversities are the very things that make earthly life interesting in the first place, and to exclude them from an imitation of nature is to overlook the most beautiful thing on this side of eternity: the resolution of dissonance.  Good art doesn’t astonish merely for the sake of astonishment; instead it imitates nature, and that is astonishing in itself.  Perhaps making that kind of art might entail hares getting tortoisecuts or sucking the blood out of mosquitos, but at the same time, every incongruity ought to be rationally explained, and that will make it all the more beautiful.

Sometimes as Christians we can forget how astonishing the world really is.  We too might think that the only recourse from the dull vexation of this revolving planet under the sun is some kind of escape.  But in actuality, we need no compensation for the truth.  There is in fact nothing more astonishing than the most fundamental reality of our lives:

Dalí's painting of the Passion of Christ.
Dalí’s painting of the Passion of Christ.


There is nothing illogical about God’s creation, but everything about it is astonishing.  For we could not imagine something more beautiful or surreal than what Our Saviour has done for us in reality.  And what is the purpose of art or even of fantasy if not to reinvigorate once again our astonishment with that truth?

Incidentally, Dalí was also fascinated with rhinoceroses.

Vulgarity and Poetic Optimism in Catullus

What follows is an essay in which I express opinions that I believe to have belonged to Catullus (84 – 54 BC) or Roman society, but certainly not myself.  Please read discerningly and appreciate this distinction.  I consider Catullus’ sexual humour to be entirely inappropriate, but it is necessary to address the matter from a scholarly perspective in order to see beyond it and ultimately recognise what is lovely and good about Catullus’ poetry.  There is plenty to object to, but the more difficult task is making something of good report out of it all, which is the very essence of what I mean by ‘poetic optimism’.  The essay follows:

No argument need be made to demonstrate that Catullus’ poetry is, on the whole, extraordinarily sensuous, erotic, and even, at times, pornographic.  The most obvious attestation of this point may be Catullus 16 from the Carmina, the first two lines of which stand among the most salacious and infamous vulgarities in all of extant Latin poetry.  But even in this most obscene poem, this disgrace and abomination to mankind, even here is found something of the poetic optimism that is the essential ideal of every pursuer of beauty; that is, the ability to transcend the mere acceptance of things as they are and conceive of them as they ought to be.  The height of Catullus’ ‘poetic optimism’ may be found, as I will argue in this essay, in Catullus 64, but to understand it, we must contextualize the lofty epyllion with his more earthy works and explore how its commonalities with the latter can function as a kind of metatheatrical rupture, making the quixotically crafted aesthetic more powerful and more real by linking it to the mundane.

Catullus 16 seems particularly relevant to this discussion because it affords us insight into the poet’s understanding of his own use of vulgarity.  Such insight can be gained from his adagial distinction between the poet and his poetry: nam castum esse decet pium poetam / ipsum, versiculos nihil necesse est, / qui tum denique habent salem ac leporem, “For it is becoming of a godly poet to be pure himself, [but] it is in no way necessary with respect to his verses, which then, in short, hold salt and charm” (Catull. 16.5-7).  Catullus says that poetry ought to hold salem ac leporem.  Here used substantively, the adjective, sal carries a sense of ‘freshness’ or ‘wit’ and leporus of ‘pleasantries’ or ‘attractiveness’.  Elsewhere in the poem, he describes his verses as molliculi, a little bit ‘effeminate’ or ‘mild’, and in Catullus 1 he describes them as lepidus, ‘charming’, ‘effeminate’, or ‘pleasant looking’ (Catull. 16.4, Catull. 1.1).  Catullus tends to use all of these terms almost interchangeably to describe his poetry; hence, there is a sense in which, for Catullus, charm, wittiness, a lack of gravity, and effeminate attractiveness are all inseparable qualities and together play an essential role in good poetry.

Perhaps the last of these qualities, effeminate attractiveness, is the ultimate link to the voluptuousness and vulgarity of his poetry.  If such is the case, the frivolous manner in which Catullus makes sexual references can be accounted for not only by the inseparability of this quality from ‘mildness’ and ‘pleasantry’, but also by the way the quality is described: rather than feminine attractiveness, Catullus’ word choices imply effeminate attractiveness, meaning that there is a sense in which the sexuality is to be feigned—it is, metaphorically, to be the product of a man playing the role of a woman.  And this reversal of gender roles was, for the ancient Greeks and Romans, a source of much comedy and amusement (as clearly evidenced by the Greek comedy, Lysistrata).  Thus, the uncensored sexuality in Catullus is meant to be taken lightly; it is to be charming and even bordering on humorous.

On the other hand, Catullus says that the poet ought to be castus and piusCastus may mean ‘virtuous’ or ‘chaste’ and pius may mean ‘dutiful’, by which translations, a connotation simply of morality and temperateness might be achieved, or we might even create the more specific notion of a poet who strives well to fulfil the high calling of art itself—he is both dutiful to and virtuous in the performance of his craft.  But it is also valuable to note that both of these words may hold religious connotations; castus may mean ‘pious’ and pius may mean ‘godly’.  So the Roman ideals of both virtue and godliness are relevant.  But the differences must be appreciated between these ancient Roman ideals and their modern descendants.  Today, in the christianised west, virtue includes chastity, and chastity means abstinence in all contexts outside of marriage (although, arguably, the definitiveness of this matter may be in the process of waning).  But in ancient Rome, even the gods themselves were unfaithful, and extramarital sex was sometimes a part of religious ritual in the form of sacred prostitution.  So the qualities that Catullus demands of a poet do not necessarily exclude the possibility of what we would consider sexual impurity.

Instead, what Catullus demands of a poet is better characterised as restraint and self-control.  Catullus writes, [Aurelius et Furius] me ex versiculis meis putastis, / quod sunt molliculi, parum pudicum, “[Aurelius and Furius], on account of my verses, which are a little effeminate, you think me insufficiently shamefaced” (Catull. 16.3-4).  In ancient Rome, men possessed an abundance of sexual freedom.  It was socially acceptable for a man to sleep with whomever he pleased, so long as such affairs remained private; however, the moment they became public, it was considered shameful.  Catullus’ poetry displays such sexuality as was to be kept private, and this is why he is accused of being ‘insufficiently shamefaced’.  So his response is, as we have already elaborated, that a poet, in real life, must possess the restraint society demands, but such demands do not apply to poetry itself.  Art, for Catullus as for much of the western world, is to be the honest expression of humanity, uncensored by societal standards and limitations.  This is one of the principles (and perhaps the most pure of the many possible motivations) behind nudity in art.

Both this perspective of nudity and the light humour of sexuality in Catullus are relevant to Catullus’ description of Ariadne in Catullus 64: magnis curarum fluctuat undis, / … non contecta levi velatum pectus amictu, / non tereti strophio lactentis victa papillas, / … omnia … ipsius … fluctus salis alludebant, “[Ariadne] undulates with and is distressed by great waves of concern, not covered with the light cloak that [formerly] covered her breast, her breasts of milk-white not bound by her smooth breastband, the waves of the sea played with all of these things” (Catull 64.62-67).  Initially, this description seems to be an instance of Catullus’ light and humorous sexuality.  Instead of mare, ‘sea’, he uses the word sal, ‘salt’, which by metonymy means ‘sea’.  But notice the metatheatre: sal is also one of his choice words for ‘wit’.  Hence, poetic wit is alludit, ‘playing’, with Ariadne’s leves, ‘light’, garments.  So in this sense, Catullus is clearly being unserious and, at least to his own mind, humorous.  The sexuality is supposed to be effeminate, charming, and inconsequential, a mere pleasantry.

But the sea also symbolises Ariadne’s curae, her cares, worries, and concerns.  Catullus goes on to write: sed neque tum mitrae neque tum fluitantis amictus / illa vicem curans toto ex te pectore, Theseu, / toto animo, tota pendebat perdita mente, “But she, caring about the situation neither then of the headdress nor then of the floating cloak, with all her heart, all her spirit, all her lost mind, she hung upon you, Theseus” (Catull. 64.68-70).  Here the use of the verbal form of cura makes clear that the aforementioned curarum undis were waves of care for Theseus (metaphorically linked to the waves of the sea).  It also becomes clear, in this further elaboration, that a double meaning is implied by the word pectus, which I previously rendered as ‘breast’; here it makes more sense as ‘heart’.  So the image in the previous quotation (lines 62 through 67) can also be reinterpreted: the wave’s of Ariadne’s love for Theseus are playing with those garments with which she hides her heart, leaving her shamefully exposed.  She has been overcome by love and passion, Venus has externavit (Catull. 64.71), driven her out of her mind, and as a consequence, she has been left as a bare expression of what it means to love and to be human, bound no more by societal demands than by her breastband.

This alternative interpretation reflects more of the poetic gravity that would be expected to accompany the lofty epic style of Catullus 64, but the lighter interpretation is also important.  It’s as if Catullus is mocking his own severity.  Humour, triviality, and stylistic rupture serve as a kind of light cloak to mollify (make mollis) the potency of the bare humanity, making it less shameful, and more socially acceptable.  People may have had difficulty relating to the high ideals of Catullus’ epic style, so he bridges the gap between them and something very mundane and commonplace in Rome: lust.  Catullus’ vulgarity is something vulgaris, ‘ordinary’, to which the vulgus, the ‘common people’, could relate.  But it is the nature of his poetic optimism to not leave it at that.  Instead, in his poetry, Catullus transcends the mere acceptance of things as they are and conceives of them as they ought to be—he transforms mere lust and vulgarity into something better, something human.  Perhaps the fact that this action took place even in ancient Rome, a society in which sexual liberality was praised as an essential part of piety, attests to the existence of a universal moral consciousness in the human mind, a conscientia, or ‘common knowledge’, that transcends all cultural barriers, so that even Catullus knew there to be nothing lovely or of good report about lust and salaciousness, and as an artist, thirsted to create something better.

Shakespeare is Dead

The professor was a strange man; indeed, there is little else about him upon which it can be agreed.  We might hesitate to submit that he was strange in any conventional sense—it wasn’t that his voice was too high or his stature too short or anything of the like—no, it was rather something peculiarly unrelated to any identifiable quality of himself. He was strange in a strange sense. Though upon it, it most certainly may not be agreed, this author might be so bold as to assign him the label of pedantic; for he was dreadfully preoccupied with the ‘rules of proper English’ and had an unchecked phobia of sentences that ended in prepositions bordering on the psychotic, which caused him to go to great lengths to avoid such sentences, and in turn, to produce such clausal absurdities as ‘upon which it can be agreed’ and ‘upon it, it may not be agreed’ and other such cacophonic phrases as cause a terrible illness—much like the psychological illness of the pedant from whom they come forth—to trickle down the aural cavity and bounce around the nerves and guts like the metal object of a pinball game before settling in the stomach, an organ which is left most unsettled.

As to his appearance: he was tall and thin with grey hair. He tended to walk as if the soles of his shoes were covered with sharp pins into which he was perpetually jamming his feet with all his strength, delighting in the sheer misery of it. This unique stride was complemented by a grim visage with a frustrated brow and frowning lips that seemed only to further evidence the supposed nature of his footwear. Today, for whatever reason, he seemed particularly himself as he made his excruciating way down the hallway and into his lecture hall.  By his right side he carried a worn out, leather brief-case that smelled like the remnants of ancient Babylon.  This he jerked backward and forward with each step he made, paralleling the equally rigid choreography of his empty left hand which moved sternly as he walked.  On his chest he wore the plainest tie that has ever come out of a clothing-factory on purpose, and this was covered in a grey, conservative suit that matched the colour of his hair (though we can only assume that this was a happy coincidence, as it is doubtless that the match was not present when he bought the suit almost three decades ago now).  What must be said as to his footwear, we have already mentioned.  In short, he might be said to have borne a countenance very similar to that of a statue predating the classical period but strangely wanting in its archaic smile.

Such was the form that greeted the fifty-some students breathing the air on the other side of the door to forum room 201. But perhaps upon the use of the word greeted in this context it cannot be agreed, for so warm a sentiment seems remote from the manner in which the lifeless artefact, lacking even the animation of classical contrapposto, indifferently slammed open the door and trudged his way to the desk in the centre of the forum upon which he flung his brief-case and jerked it open in a magnificent cloud of dust.

“Welcome to ‘A Neo-Archaic, Contemporary, Historical, and Revolutionary Observation of Nature, Ideas, Society, and Mankind’, abbreviated ‘ANACHRONISM’, course number 217.  In this class, we will be exploring nature, ideas, society, and mankind through some of the most cutting-edge scholarship available on the subject.  I trust you have all downloaded the syllabus on your mac-an-apple i-gadget inter-web machine tablets and will read along with me as I read out loud.”

The professor then spent the next half hour reading a painfully intricate document that would have very much resembled a document of law had it not been for all the ugly linguistic idiosyncrasies previously alluded to.  When both he and his students realised, much to the surprise and disappointment of both parties, that he had reached the end of the document, there was an awkward silence filled only by the sound of the breathing previously mentioned.  This persisted much longer than almost anyone could bear who wasn’t already accustomed to such exercises of self-inflicted pedagogic, podiatric, and pedantic torture as pressing pins into one’s foot. During this silence, the professor stared grimly and unrelentingly at each of the faces in the class.  Finally, he spoke again:

“Who among you knows who Shakespeare was?”

Everyone raised their hands, and one impudent soul shouted, “Isn’t he the idiot responsible for English class?”

“Wrong!” the professor exclaimed, “He is not responsible for English class.  He is dead, so you must use the past tense: He was the idiot responsible for English class.”

With this said, the professor let his brilliant knowledge of grammar fill the room in a moment of silence before beginning again.

“What was Shakespeare famous for?”

This sentence was followed by a silence of equal length, creating a nice little silence sandwich.  Finally, some pedant spoke up.

“Shakespeare has been noted for his revolutionary innovations in English theatre and poetry, which thrust the Anglo-Saxon world into the literary renaissance and the future of the English language itself.  These innovations drew on the works of ancient classical writers, most notably Terence and Plautus, through the use of natural sounding speech in the form of verse, especially iambic pentameter, and similar classical themes.”

The rest of the class was much relieved to hear this, both because it ended the silence, supplying the professor with a satisfactory answer, and because it meant that they didn’t have to make any such innovations, seeing as Shakespeare had already finished innovating the English language for them.

“No! That is not for what Shakespeare has been noted!”  The professor exclaimed, “Don’t listen to her!” (he was referring to the pedant) “Now take this down in your notes:  Recent scholarship has proven that Shakespeare was most famous for three things: (1) being dead, (2) never existing, and (3) being gay. The first of these is probably the most important.  Shakespeare is dead! So don’t talk about him like he’s alive. Shakespeare does not ‘have an influence on poetry’; he has ‘had an influence on poetry’, but now he’s dead.  The second of these is also important.  Recent scholarship has proven that Shakespeare was not a real person.  His plays were composed by a handful of clever men from Oxford and then misattributed to some made up character called ‘Shakespeare’, who doesn’t even know how to spell his own name.  Finally, the third thing is probably that for which he is most famous.  Shakespeare was gay.  Recent scholarship has proven that the most interesting thing about Shakespeare’s writing is it’s gayness.”

The students all furiously took this down verbatim in their notes.

“So one of your essay prompts is going to be as follows:  Was Shakespeare straight?  Explain your reasoning in exactly five paragraphs. Be sure to use concrete examples and cite all sources properly.”

The students all took this down.

“So how will you answer this question?”

One student raised his hand and was called on: “I will write that by the Strawson Presupposition principle—which states that A is neither true nor false if it depends on B when B is false—I cannot answer that question.  For Shakespeare’s sexual orientation is dependent on his existence, but because he did not exist, he was neither gay nor straight.”

“Was dependent.”

“I’m sorry?”

“You said, ‘Shakespeare’s sexual orientation is dependent.’  But you should have said, ‘was dependent’.  SHAKESPEARE IS DEAD!  Don’t you kids ever listen?!”

“I’m sorry.”

“Anyway, that’s not the right answer.  The right answer is: ‘No.'”

The students all wrote in their notebooks: ‘The answer to the essay question is ‘No.”

“Okay. Who here knows who Homer was?”

There was a pause, and an impudent soul, perhaps the same one who had made the earlier outbursting, made another: “He’s a yellow guy that eats donuts!”

“Wrong!  He was a yellow guy that ate donuts.”

At this the pedant spoke up once again: “Homer was a poet from antiquity and one of the most influential poets ever to use an Indo-European language.  His two major extant works are The Iliad and The Odyssey, epic poems of the classical oral tradition from which Virgil derived the poetic and thematic groundwork of his Aeneid, perpetuating the spread of the ancient poetic style in the works of later poets such as Dante and other poets of the dolce stil novo as well as John Milton in his Paradise Lost and even, arguably, the poetics of the entire western world.”

“No!  Stop that!  That is not for what Homer has been noted!”  The professor was clearly getting quite frustrated.  “Homer was most famous for three things: (1) being dead, (2) not existing, and (3) um … actually, I guess there are only two things; Homer was not necessarily gay, but he was an ancient Greek.”

The professor then went on to explicate each of these three things (one of which did not exist).  After doing so, he moved on to several other discussions, each going the same way: a rude interruption from some impudent soul, a ‘correction’ of grammar, some silence and breathing, a pedantic comment, and finally, an explanation of the most cutting-edge scholarship on the subject, with a heavy emphasis on the fact that the subject of the discussion is dead.  In this manner, the professor made his way across the western world in all its history and splendour, conquering it like Alexander the Great.  In only a matter of minutes, he had managed to deface very nearly the whole of western culture, and indeed, of humanity itself.  Dante, as it turns out, is best remembered for his political failure; Mozart for his promiscuity; C. S. Lewis for his atheism; Milton for his blindness; Beethoven for his deafness; Cicero for his demise; Albert Einstein for his bad grades; and Leonardo da Vinci for the very same thing which Shakespeare holds as his most prized contribution to western poetry.  And when he had boiled these men into a stew of plainness, the world suddenly seemed as grim and as grey as the professor’s suit or hair. No man is great, no thing is beautiful, and most importantly, all of these men are dead.

But then, as the class sat contemplating the cutting-edge scholarship before them, observing these disgraceful men of western history, as they considered the abomination that is mankind, suddenly someone in the class had a paroxysm of poetry.  It happens sometimes.  He began an uncontrollable outbursting of unmetered speech: “I have of late,” he began tentatively at first, “but wherefore I know not, lost all my mirth,” he paused patiently and gently at each punctuation mark, and one by one, the members of the class began to turn and listen to him, “forgone all custom of exercises, and indeed, it goes so heavily with my disposition that this goodly frame, the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory;” he spoke honestly, with a strange sense of emotion that seemed to entreat the audience to cry, but begged them to laugh at it’s awkward context.  He went on: “this most excellent canopy, the air, look you, this brave o’er-hanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire—why, it appeareth nothing to me but a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours.” His performance was, in itself, overwhelmingly moving, but in the context of a spontaneous outbursting, it seemed merely absurd.  So the dominant reaction was muffled laughter.

The professor interrupted him: “Wait—what is that?  What are you doing?  Stop that!”

But he went on: “What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable; in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god: the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals—and yet to me, what is this quintessence of dust?  Man delights not me.”  Here he stopped of his own accord.  And the room was silent, filled only with muddled laughter and breathing.  As such, it became a peculiar atmosphere of disgraceful beauty—the hideous mockery of humanity that the professor had made mixed with the shameful laughter of the students and the quintessential eccentricity and seriousness of the performing student.

“What is that!”  The professor demanded.

The pedant spoke up:  “That was Hamlet’s speech to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in the second scene of the second act of Hamlet, lines 318 through 332.”

At this, the professor was furious: “No!  That’s not right!  Shakespeare is most famous for being dead!”  The man insisted.  And now, it seemed the pins in his shoes must have finally pierced the last layer of his skin.  He began to weep uncontrollably.  He tried to restrain himself, and even tried to begin teaching again, “Shakespeare is dead!” he said.  But he couldn’t stop weeping, so he packed his briefcase and headed for the exit, weeping and repeating that sentence over, “Shakespeare is dead!”

Just before the door shut behind him, some impudent soul shouted out after him, to correct his grammar, “No, Shakespeare was dead!”

The door shut, and the room grew still and silent again.  The students sat in amusement and awe, wondering at the surreal passage of events to which they had just bore witness.  Some students were entertained to no end, others were perplexed, and still others were simply tired of sitting through such pointless classes.  It seems the only thing upon which it could be agreed regarding the professor is that he was a strange man.

The Shaded Dawn

The shaded Dawn that sulks and Mourns the morning

With woeful Doves that requiem their sleep

Together prelude still and soft adorning…

The quiet brook that flows where willows weep

Passing gently by and swift absconding

In passion’s hast but tranquil waters deep…

The flaming autumn of the day And brilliant gloaming

That contends against the ends of the Earth to temporise

The fall of Dusk to Dark and Distant groaning

When necromantic wonders And phantasms arise—

This dying image of evanescent glory

That whispers secret augury to the few and perspicacious

Who mark the hour’s end and coming demise,

And oh how it marks with dread and fear of glory,

This image, that end!  But onward soul, be resolved and pertinacious;

Heed not this wisdom, but disobey your nature.

While yet the sacred morning mourns her loss

And evening ever evades it’s coming cross,

Assume an ardour more surreal and sublime

That transcends the idiotic bounds of verse and rhyme,

A timeless incandescence more furious in feature

Than that of a thousand deaths and damnéd demons

Who deride the day with divination of distant dreaded doom.

Nay, Love with the very force and agony of all this gloom,

For ’tis well to mark the wisdom dawn may give

That whoever dies for Love shall ever live.

On Aesthetics and Existence

Suppose there were some sort of nonhuman, rational being wandering the earth and observing human life.  This nonhuman, we will call him a ‘metahuman’, has nothing in common with humanity except reason alone.  He doesn’t experience the same desires that we do, nor possess the same needs.  In fact, let us say that he is subject to no desires or needs whatsoever.  As he makes his way through our curious little planet, he encounters a good number of phenomena with which his rationality is perfectly reconciled.  By virtue of being rational, he understands that a being must act in promotion of its own sustainment; this is simply a manifestation of adherence to the core principle of rationality–noncontradiction.  And so it comes as no surprise to him that people eat food.  A quick explanation of the natural science behind the human anatomy allows him to understand this act as rational and noncontradictory to existence.  He is also at ease when he sees people working for money to buy that food, exercising to help maintain the body in other ways, and getting married to help maintain the population.  With all these things, I believe our metahumane friend would be quite satisfied.

There is, however, an aspect of the human experience that I suspect might not sit as well with him.  That aspect is human philocaly, the love of beauty.  Upon extended observation of human living, I believe he might find himself asking, “why do these creatures so fastidiously obsess themselves with matters of absolutely no relevance to their existence?”  “Why,” he might ask, “do the sit for long hours watching the sunrise?  why do they drive themselves mad over the colours of oils on canvases or arrangements of sounds over time?  The time they spend on these things could be better spent working for food, eating food, exercising, or reproducing.” It seems that art is a superfluous facet of human existence.

However, while such an observation might vex our metahuman, if he is capable of being vexed, I do not think that he should outright object to it.  There is, after all, nothing inherently self-contradictory about art.  Art is, by all means, rationally permissible, but what the metahuman would understand, and we must realise, is that, ostensibly, art is rationally unnecessary.

It seems that art neither opposes nor promotes human existence.  And for the metahuman, a being’s existence is the first step in a deductive proof that merits his or her actions.  By taking existence as a given, the metahuman can prove that a human being must eat and exercise and must not undergo self-imposed starvation or deprival of exercise because such do’s and don’t’s are rationally necessary.  All behaviour that a being exhibits is only made possible by his or her existence, and so, in order to be rationally sound, none of such behaviour may oppose that being’s existence, for to do so would be to create, as it were, a contradiction in the normative ‘proof of actions’.  In other words, there is a logical fallacy in a chain of reasoning that reads, “A exists, therefore A acts, therefore A does not exist”*.  Likewise, there are certain actions that a being must take in order to sustain existence, which may be called ‘rationally necessary’.  Obviously, to neglect to do such things is to passively oppose existence and to, therefore, once again create a logical fallacy.  Ergo, all rational beings are demanded, by their reason, to avoid actions that oppose their existence and execute those that promote it.

However, in a sense, art neither promotes nor opposes human existence.  No one has ever starved from musical malnourishment (though I have had nightmares …) nor died of prolonged exposure to oil paintings.  It seems then, at least prima facie, that art has no baring on the metahuman’s proof of actions.  Hence, how it should be handled in the formal proof becomes quite a difficult matter.  Occam’s Razor might suggest that we remove it by default, but this seems a mere ‘easy way out’ of a question that rests on empirical evidence which powerfully suggests alternatives. The very fact that humans do indeed partake in the enjoyment of art seems to suggest that Occam’s Razor cannot be here applicable for one of three reasons: (1) humanity is not rational after all, as demonstrated by her irrational aesthetic passions, (2) art is a necessary part of the proof of actions in some more nuanced way than we have yet understood, or (3) art is necessitated by something other than the ‘primal premise’ in the proof of actions.

(By ‘primal premise,’ I mean existence; the jargon is intended to portray the analogical link between this and the Primal Cause Argument for the existence of God.  It is supposed, under the Primal Cause Argument, that given the existence of the universe and humanity, within the context of causality, a ‘primal cause’ that came first and without a cause of its own is a metaphysical necessity.  Our currant discourse takes the existence of humanity as the ‘primal premise’ in a proof of actions that demonstrates the rational necessity of self-sustainment.  This link will be important later on.)

Of course the first of these three reasons is, in its present form, utterly absurd because it denies the existence of human reason, on which it is dependent, as evidenced by its classification as a ‘reason’.  However, we might refine it a bit to say that, while humanity is capable of being rational, art is an example of her departure from rationality, however exceptional such a behaviour might be for her.  But that is a rather lame explanation of art, especially considering the fact that this blog purposes to demonstrate that beauty is a fractal construct of reason.  Therefore, we will be finding that the better option is either two or three.

In order to consider the reason for human philocaly, we must begin by considering the reason for human philosophy˚.  As it turns out, human philosophy is indeed rationally necessary, however its necessity is less clearly linked to the ‘primal premise’.  If belief is–as many have considered it to be–the act of depending on a supposed truth, then human beings have no choice but to believe in some things and not in others.  By sitting here, typing this post, I am believing that my computer will not explode in my face and kill me.  I am counting on that fact.  If I were to believe that my computer is going to explode, then my act of writing this post would be irrational, as it would be opposing my existence.  Hence, in order to be a rational being, I must believe certain things and not others (which, in this case, means that, given my sitting here typing, I must believe that my computer will not explode and not that it will).  This is because the rationality of an act (i.e. its promotion and non-opposition of existence) is dependent on certain suppositions that surround the act–that is, we must ‘count on’ or ‘believe in’ certain supposed truths in order for the action, or more accurately, the intention behind the action, to be classifiable as an action (or intention) of self-sustainment.  But the only rational way I can arrive at a belief is by way of philosophy.  In other words, it is irrational to count on the veracity of a given supposition without reason to do so.  Hence, the existence of reason (which is simply a more specific facet of the ‘primal premise’) is self-sustained by philosophy.  And so, philosophy is rationally necessary.

Recall from the previous ALUC posts that art, the discourse of emotions, is really an extension of philosophy, the discourse of reason, in that emotions are fractal constructs of rational processes.  Therefore, it seems that art may be necessitated by the mere fact of philosophy’s necessity.  If we are required, by reason, to rationally deliberate truth in order to arrive at rational beliefs, then why would we not also be required to do the same emotionally?  Human engagement in art is, in this sense, simply a way of making use of all methods of discovering truth available to the human.

Now would be a good point in the essay to point out a flaw in our model of reason thus far; I think I’ll do just that: The average Christian or reasonable thinker reading this post has already been quite troubled by the whole idea of self-sustainment.  We Kantian moralists, who make up most of the world, like to think that morality is an extension of rationality, and as such, must be governed by the laws of reason.  Therefore, the idea that reason would incessantly demand our constant attendance to self-sustainment is troubling to the Christian who believes that self-sacrifice is the core principle of all morality.  Hence, it seems our model has been all too simple.

Allow me, therefore, to do a bit of remodelling.  In Computer Science (the science of programming computers) there are conceptual entities called “objects”.  An “object” is something that sits out somewhere in the computer’s memory and can be called to perform tasks or can be acted on by other objects.  The particular tasks that a given object might be able to perform are decided on by the programer, and the possibilities are nearly endless.  However, one task that an object can never perform is self-deletion.  This is because of the logical fallacy that we have been discussing; it simply doesn’t make logical sense for something to destroy itself, and computer science reflects this inescapable normative principle.  However, sometimes, as you might imagine, objects do in fact need to be deleted.  For this task, the system itself must be called.  In other words, to delete an object, we must act not within the object’s personal scope, but within a larger scope that contains the object, which is called the system in the case of computer science.

A very similar phenomenon occurs in life outside of computers.  Sometimes there comes a point when objects need to be deleted, persons need to die.  At such a time, the principle still holds that a moral agent cannot delete himself, but a larger scope must be called on for his deletion.  So far, we have discussed the proof of actions as a self-contained system of rationality—something that is demanded to be non-contradictory with itself.  But if reality is fractal, then this “larger scope” that we are calling on must actually be self-similar; it must be similar to the “proof of actions” construct which it contains.  Hence, the deletion of a person must be appealed to the primal premise not of a proof of actions contained within the person, but of such a proof contained only by the scope of reality itself.

If you’re wondering what such a primal premise could possibly be, recall the disgustingly long and tastelessly obtrusive parenthetical element above in which the link between a ‘primal premise’ and a ‘primal cause’ was alluded to.  Herein lies the point: if the self-similar construct that is reality contains moral agents with proofs of actions that are premised on the respective existences of those agents, then reality itself is a massive proof of actions that is premised on its own existence (and since its existence is premised on its primal cause, we may say that this is the primal premise of the universal proof of actions, and consequentially, is the universal analogue of a moral agent’s existence).  Hence, the first line of the universal proof of actions reads: “Reality is.”  And because reality is subject to logic, all following lines must be non-contradictory to the existence of reality—or more specifically, to the existence of the primal cause and its particular nature.

And so, we appeal to this universal proof of actions for the deletion of a person; however, even within this larger scope, the deletions of persons is irrational.  Because reality is fractal, the principle that a moral agent cannot be deleted (which originates within the scope of the agent himself as a principle of self-sustainment) is reconstructed in larger, congruent scopes by necessity, including the scope of reality itself.  So the fact that there come occasions when persons must be deleted poses a serious threat to the logical soundness of the universal system (reality).

However, notice the phrase “a person must be deleted”; this implies that the deletion of the person is logically necessary.  Hence, we have a contradiction.  The principle of non-deletion that is perpetuated up through the self-similar system demands that persons are never deleted, however, sometimes reality demands that they are (e.g. in the case of war).  This tells us that something went wrong earlier in the proof of actions; some phenomenon has opposed reality and defied logic.  We will explore the phenomenon in a later post.  At present, we must merely understand that there is a contradiction, and that the contradiction must be fixed.  Logic demands that something be done in the universal proof of actions in order to correct the error.

So allow me to present the contradiction clearly:  Two moral agents are placed on a metaphysical see-saw, but only one is allowed to step off, leaving the other to go hurling down through the endless abyss of nonexistence (that is, of death or whatever the particular situation calls for).  Each moral agent is demanded to preserve both himself (by his own proof of actions) and the other agent (by a congruent construct of the other agent’s proof of actions).  It’s quite a pickle.  The only rational solution is the beautiful mathematical principle of Substitution.  One of the agents must choose to substitute his own primal premise with that of the other agent; that is, he must value the other agent’s existence in place of his own.  People less esoteric and nerdy than myself call this “love”.

That is exactly what has happened in the case of the universal proof of actions.  As a consequence of some error, humanity got set on a chain of reasoning that leads directly to death, but because it is logically necessary for man to keep on existing, the Primal Cause himself made the Grand Substitution.  The existence of man was substituted for the existence of Reality, causing all the equations to boggle about as reality demanded its own destruction and the very principle that called  for the deletion to be made was set to be deleted, reversing the error and undefying logic.  All this, we know, must have happened for two reasons: (1) it is the only possible solution to the contradiction, and (2) it maintains self-similarity with other proofs of actions (e.g. when a man sacrifices his life for his country).

As a result of all this, Substitution has become a principle of logic.  It logically necessary (and therefore morally right) for persons to sacrifice themselves for others because Reality has sacrificed itself for them.  The principle of Substitution trickles down to latter iterations of the universal fractal in this way.  For that matter, I might point out that logic is simply defined by whatever the Primal Cause does.  In other words, self-sustainment is logically necessary because the Primal Cause exists and continues to exist, and self-sacrifice is logically necessary because the Primal Cause sacrifices itself; every action that the Primal Cause takes is imitated in every smaller scope of reality due to its self-similar structure—that’s what logic is.

So logic is defined by the actions of the Primal Cause.  This might leave us wondering: why does the Primal Cause act in the way it does?  Or to put it more bluntly, what defines the actions of the Primal Cause?  The only answer I have for this is “the Primal Will”.  The “Primal Will” is the end of the line in the determining of actions.  The Primal Cause does what it does simply because that’s the way things Absolutely are.  Christians and non-christians alike might find interesting what the Bible has to say about this.  In Revelations 4: 11, it say, “You are worthy, our Lord and our God, to receive Glory and Honour and Power, because you created all things and through your will they exist and were created”.  Where I have translated “through your will,” the ancient Greek reads “διὰ τὸ θέλημά σου” which we might also translate “because of your pleasure”.  So in one sense, we understand that things are the way they are because they ought to be (because it’s God’s will), but in another sense, they’re just that way for the fun of it (because of God’s pleasure).  Either way, the verse contends that He is to receive glory and honour for this—God’s will or pleasure is absolutely Good.  However, what this means is that as intricate and difficult to decipher as reality is, the fractal is that way in part because that is how it ought to be, but also simply for the mere fun of it.  God choose to create, to love, and to die for that love for the sake of his good pleasure, his θέλημά.

Now that was a pretty long tangent.  Remember, this post is about philocaly.  And so I ask what is art if not the highest form of Substitution available to man?  Art is the surrendering of one’s self to beauty, the giving of one’s soul to all of humanity.  An artist is demanded to be courageous and bold; he must wildly surrender everything with which his creator has endowed him to the creation of something beautiful—a love letter to humanity.  When he performs this creative task, he is acting rationally and in congruity with his maker’s primal act of creation and self-sacrifice, which was conducted under the Καλός Θέλημά (Good Will or Beautiful Pleasure, Καλός being the word from whence we get ‘philocaly’ – the love of beauty; the love of good).


* Obviously an application of the transitive property to this statement makes it read “A exists, therefore A does not exist,” which, needless to say, is utter nonsense.

˚Just when you thought those ivory towers couldn’t grow any higher and the thinkers inside them couldn’t become anymore distanced from the real world, the philosophers start philosophising about philosophy.