Stop Him!

Stop him, stop that man

Running through the streets,

Even moving under them––

The man with the yellow bow tie!

In the city the policemen are playing hopscotch,

Since they’ve already thrown bumpy cinnamon waffles

Today beneath all the citizens’ illicit sitting spots.

The cats are baking in the kitchen,

And the children are taking in naps,

While onerous nylon pants run gaily by this spot.

Stop him, he laid some hands on my cello!

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All’s Fare in Love and Grammar

The most romantic grammatical error in the English language is the comma splice.  There is nothing quite so lexically coquettish as the prospect of bringing together two utterly independent clauses, from the most disparate of origins, and joining them face to face in audacious effrontery to all that grammarians hold sacred.  It brings blush to one’s cheeks just to think of how close they are–without a period, without a conjunction, without even so much as a lousy semicolon to keep them apart!  So formidable!  So bad!  An editor would be remise to overlook a scandal like that, and that’s why they have rules to prevent such things.  All parallel clauses must always dance at least an arm’s length away from each other.  These sorts of rules can be burdensome at times.  But no obstacle is insurmountable, love has a way of working things out.

Gooey Philosophy

In Ecclesiastes 12:12, Solomon noted the vanity of excessive bookishness.  Just for giggles, let’s quote the passage from the Vulgate:

faciendi plures libros nullus finis frequensque meditatio carnis adflictio est

“There is no end to the making of many books, and contemplation is often an affliction of flesh.”

In case you’re wondering, yes, quoting from the Vulgate is quite frankly something that I do for giggles.

Often when I’m writing philosophy or music, I find it the most interesting to make the matter as complicated and involved as possible.  Philosophy is always more fun when it involves enough distinctions and qualifications to make your head spin, and music is more engaging when it’s intricate and difficult.  Moreover, I believe complexity is in fact something to be desired.  Reality is very complicated, so it only makes sense that the human quest for truth and beauty be equally involved.

However, I also recognise that there is something very off-putting about ‘gooey philosophy’, and for that matter, ‘gooey music’.  When things get really convoluted, philosophy beings to seem less plausible and music less beautiful.  I think that one of the most crucial observations to have gone unnoticed by 20th century composers is that once you have the goo, you’re only halfway finished with your work.  What ought to ensue is an elaborate process of simplification and polishing.  It’s all fine and dandy to do strange and barbaric things while at the piano with no one listening, but when there is an audience involved, all such wild inventions must be translated into a civilized form of rhetoric.

For the Love of God

Dear Ernest,

As, in my shameless, Victorian manner, I bemoaned and bewailed your long absence from our dialogue, in my lowest state of bereavement, when all hope had very nearly drained out from my lifeless heart, I began to imagine, though the very thought seemed to harrow me with an insurmountable consternation and perturbation, what would inevitably become of our nearly forgotten deliberation if, little by little, in small degrees, our letters became less and less frequent, less thoughtful, and altogether less interesting.  I quickly realised, as I evaluated this nightmarish fantasy of mine, that the whole situation would, without a doubt, be your fault entirely.  This was only a matter of elementary reasoning, for after all, you were the one who, in my imagining, stooped to writing a letter about the proper cultivation techniques for growing eggplants, and to so dully penned an expository, I could hardly be blamed for responding with a comment, however lengthy or tedious, on the economic and culinary benefits of owning a refrigerator.  I need hardly mention your spiritless droning on over the superiority of the colour blue to all others, and my response, a mere ‘sup’, was simply the best answer that I, or even the most masterful and creative intellectual, could ever muster.  In short, the gradual decline of standards, and the incremental deterioration in quality, while perhaps expressing itself in my letters just as much as in yours, was solely and unmistakably the fault of your own failure to provide interesting content, which, while bad enough in itself, also accounted in full for my own demise into an unending literary lifelessness.

In your last letter, when quoting a very clever gentleman: ““How can an earthly purpose point to a heavenly one?””

Anyway, now that so much is cleared up, I’d like to discuss something else: the love of God.  I recently had a conversation with someone about the theological doctrine of Penal Substitution (Jesus dying from the sins of man).  In an attempt to point out how ridiculous the whole idea is, my philosophical friend said something along these lines: “If John Somebody steals a cup of tea from Don Quixote, and for that offence, you sentence Sancho Panza to thirty years in prison, then you’re not upholding justice and mercy at the same time, you’re just being a jerk to Sancho Panza”.  In retrospect, I realise that the best response would have been to point out that everyone is a jerk to Panza, even Don Quixote.  But since this is an intellectual blog, and at that, one of certain standards, I’ll offer a more thoughtful response:

The problem with this quixotic situation is simply the choice of third-person narrative.  Penal Substitution is a doctrine based on the circular reciprocity of requited love.  By this I mean that if, for example, Romeo loves Juliet, then one of his greatest objectives in life is to keep her happy and healthy.  However, if Juliet requites Romeo’s love, then a large part of serving her means, for Romeo, taking care also of himself.  In this way, love is a lot like writing letters back and forth: the better one letter, the better its response, and if Romeo is well off, then Juliet will be also, which is the lover’s greatest concern.  By loving Juliet, Romeo has not taken away resources from himself—though it may seem like this at first—but rather, he has increased the over all purposes that he and Juliet collectively possess for staying alive.  Obviously, Shakespeare is a bad example, seeing that Romeo and Juliet were never actually in love, but it serves our philosophical purposes just fine.

Between God and man, there is a very similar drama, only man is not well off, and therefore, God will suffer.  And He does.  Penal Substitution doesn’t mean choosing a third-party at random to suffer for the crimes of another; rather, it means that, when man has turned from God, such that either he or God must pay, Jesus chooses Himself.  After all, in the third-person, it doesn’t make much sense that one man should need to die in order that another might live, but the situation does in fact arise, and the Christian answer to the conflict is different for each narrative.  In the first-person, the crucifixion illustrates that the proper answer is, ‘I die’, and in the second person, the resurrection tells us to answer, ‘you live’.  But if, as humans, we respond gratefully to both of these divine answers, saying back to Jesus, ‘I am dead in my sins’ (Ephesians 2:1), come, ‘you live’ inside of me, then the third-person narrative will have no mention of death at all: ‘He lives’.

I propose that pointing earthly purposes to heavenly one’s is all a matter of Imitation Christis.  If on Earth, we can experience this drama in the first person, not just reading about it in books and obscure theological doctrines, but actually knowing Jesus in the second-person—as a You, not a Him—then having been so deeply loved, we will find it difficult to respond in any other way toward others.  We are the recipients of an incredible letter, to which, if we offer any reply at all, everything we write thereafter will bear a resemblance, and gradually, by small degrees, our Earthly story will be transformed into something very near a Heavenly one; we will understand other characters in the text more thoroughly and love the more fully than ever before—and indeed, this entire literary revolution, the demise of the old and rise of the new, will be entirely and unmistakably His fault.

 

Your Servant,

TWM

I eat dead fish for breakfast

Dear Ernest,

Suppose you knew, before you began reading this sentence, that all material in this post will be the subject of an upcoming multiple choice test, on which, if you do well, you will be entitled to free tea for a month and whatever book selections might strike your fancy, but if you do poorly, you will be permitted, for the same duration, neither to read whatever you please nor to drink your daily Earl Grey, forced instead to memorise the phone book line by line while drinking three full cups of mystery tea, a horrifically pungent concoction of all the most repulsive herbs and leafs that can be found on God’s green earth.  With so much at stake, you will, of course, read what I have written a lot more carefully than you otherwise would, picking up nearly every subtle detail and turn of phrase with just as much attention and reverence as you would ordinarily extend to those pleasures I have wagered; indeed, your passion for understanding this piece will, by virtue of the agreement, immediately equal, and perhaps even surpass, the immeasurable zeal you already hold for choice literature and for those beverages that are somewhat less mysterious to you.  In short, you will subject yourself to so much psychological pressure, out of both a fear of consequences and faith in the prospective reward, that you will leave your mind with almost no degree of malleability, holding it instead to an absolutist regime of strict focus, discipline, and a refined sense of purpose.

In your last letter: “And what should we fear? Perhaps passivity of mind, for only dead fish swim with the stream.”

By agreeing to my wager, you will force yourself to do something that you already intended to do: to think.  But strangely, you will not accomplish this through any lofty intellectual exercise, but by a very simple, earthy means—a means by which we often tame animals—that is, by controlling what prospects lie directly ahead of you.  If you and I have both decided that we want to dedicate our lives to God, then at least in theory, we have a clear purpose in mind behind every thing we do—we always act purely out of love for Him—however,  as we wander this little planet of ours, miles below the heavens, such a purpose can often seem very far away from us, and pursuing it from where we stand at present can be like trying to follow, from the first letter to some distant period, one of my savagely magniloquent turns of phrase.  When reading a long sentence, we need to recognise smaller goals, such as parenthetical clauses, which are closer to the present word than is that long hoped for period at the end.  In the same way, when living life, we need to develop a hierarchy of purposes, where riding God’s grace to heaven is the ultimate end, within which, we include smaller, simpler things, like writing a blog, studying for a multiple choice exam, and reading a sentence for the sake of that very same exam.  If we want to achieve some lofty end with our writing—perhaps, to escape from the school of dead fish—then maybe we should begin with more obvious motivations, like entering an imaginary school of bloggers.

Ernest, I’ll be grading your letter on Tuesday.

 

Your servant,

TWM

Writing and Thinking

In medieval times, books were written on a more expensive archetype of paper called parchment–they are sheep and calves which take assurance in that.˚  So whenever a monk wrote, he did so extremely carefully; he simply couldn’t afford to make a mistake.  The result was a compendium of incredible illuminations, a few of which I recently studied in the special collection here at my university:

A Medieval Illumination

I can’t even begin to imagine how ridiculously edifying it must have been, at a time when people were forced to rely so much on memory, to actually write something down in a tangible book.  People’s thoughts were much more organised, simply because they had to be; creating a book was the grand consummation of years of very meticulous thought.

_____

˚ Pardon my ineloquent Shakespeare reference.

A Post Note

My Dear and fickle reader,

It’s time for another paroxysm of poetry.  For those of you not familiar with the custom, it is a publishing of one poem a day, in a spontaneous seizure-like fashion, for the duration of seven days.  It’s kind of like when you’re sitting in a quiet class room and suddenly find yourself uncontrollably spewing Shakespeare at the mouth all over the place.

Anyway, the theme of this particular poetry extravaganza, which clearly and deliberately violates all the ancient sumptuary laws, is ‘impressionistic’ poetry, where the term ‘impressionistic’ is used with great liberality, intended only to give an impression of the genera it describes.  To which end, the author strongly advises his reader to read, of all that follows, the images and not the words.

Your caring and frivolous friend,

TWM