Flogging the Canon


Rufus F.

Rufus is an American curmudgeon in Canada. He has a PhD in History, sings in a garage rock band, and does a bunch of other stuff.

Related Post Roulette

60 Responses

  1. Avatar MFarmer says:

    The title sounds like an academic euphemism for self-stimulation.

    Bloom would be proud.Report

  2. Avatar Jaybird says:

    “What on earth were we thinking? Exactly why was it considered progressive in the (time T) to get rid of X? And why did supporting X automatically make one a conservative?”

    How many fishing things fit into X?

    How many things qualify as X *TODAY* that will get people, in 30 years, to ask “what the fish were you thinking?”Report

  3. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    Okay, the point that a lot of the comments at IHE are making about this column is that he’s blaming the decline in enrollment in humanities programs on the culture wars, when probably there are other, more important factors going on. Basically, it’s unlikely that all those kids majoring in business would be majoring in Literature today if only the professors had embraced the greatness of their tradition or still tried to convey that greatness.

    But, some would. College kids still look for something that will inspire them. I hear this all the time from undergrads, although of course, they usually phrase it in a way that sounds cooler. If a professor conveys why their subject meant enough to them to dedicate their lives to it, that sinks in with students.

    So, I think that, if academics are going to criticize the right for demonizing the humanities for the last three decades (and just what was their goal with that?), then it’s totally fair to ask what the campus left was thinking with “Hey, hey! Ho, ho! Western Civ has got to go!”Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      demonizing the humanities

      Were the humanities demonized by the right?
      The criticism I remember (mostly because they were given to my face) was mockery of the form of “might as well get a degree in underwater basket weaving” or, my favorite, “what in the hell can you possibly do with a degree in philosophy?”Report

      • Avatar Rufus F. says:

        Yes they were.Report

        • Avatar Rufus F. says:

          Well, wait- not the humanities themselves. What I mean is humanities professors and departments as such have been bashed out of hand in ways that are totally overblown and inaccurate. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had someone tell me, with a straight face that “they don’t even teach Shakespeare in colleges anymore!” I actually make a lot of the same criticisms of the state of the profession as conservatives do, but after doing so for several years now, I’m no longer convinced that we have the same objectives.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            Oh, well. Yeah, the professors. Buncha commies!

            I think that the whole “deconstruction” movement was a culture war kinda thing in and of itself. Instead of standing on the shoulders of giants, it pointed out how the giants were really racist, or sexist, or classist, or what have you.

            To be told that you stand on the shoulders of midgets is a slap in the face.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              “Deconstruction” may not be the right word for what I’m thinking of… maybe “radical re-interpretation” would be closer…

              You know, how King Lear is really a play about the after-effects of incest/sexual abuse which explains Goneril and Regan’s supposed callousness and Cordelia’s suicide.

              You come home and talk about how you’ve been reading Hamlet and the “Conservatives” start asking questions and when they start hearing answers about how homosexual repression leads to mental illness, they’re taken aback.

              Hell, that sort of thing makes *ME* want to attack the humanities.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                “Deconstruction” may not be the right word for what I’m thinking of

                You’re actually thinking of The Goodbye Girl.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                We’re going to need a bigger boat.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                Or a bigger shovel.Report

              • Avatar tom van dyke says:

                Race, class and gender.

                The American Historical Association

                How did this one slip in?

                Environmental Morality and Artisanal Pork: Local
                Food to Save the Planet
                Thomas R. Dunlap, Texas A&M University

                Oh, environmentalism. Your tax dollars at work, beyond parody.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                While the Hoomanitees may produce its share of lunaticks, it’s the Conservatives who are (and have always) attacked the Science Building, erecting their own goofy versions.

                While one wrong does not right another, the current crop of Conservative Lunaticks so closely resemble their Scopes Monkey Trial ancestors, they might be the proof needed to say Evolution really is wrong.Report

              • Avatar tom van dyke says:

                I don’t think your equivalency holds, BlaiseP. If you didn’t get a derisive laugh out of this list


                you’re fronting.

                The creationists are another matter: Yes, they’re risible, but they do not hold possession of the academy. There is also a freedom religious conscience issue, which is complete disrespected by the academy, and bottom-feeding on the dumbest MFers who start creation museums in reaction to militant secularism isn’t a genuine engagement, nor an acceptable tu quoque.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Now see here: I am a religious man from a conservative background and acutely aware of Conservative Religion’s insidious tendencies to worm its way into public life, attacking science and freethinkers as it’s always done and will always do unless given a vigorous beating on a periodic basis.

                Militant secularism my hairy white ass. Of late, the fundamentalists have been doing land office business among the credulous and fearful, filling their empty and longing hearts with the cheap liquors of fear and hatred and intolerance. They are the enemies of science and freethinkers everywhere, and a good many of them should be tied to a cross and whipped for a good long while to validate their bloated persecution complexes.Report

              • Avatar tom van dyke says:

                BlaiseP, I’m just not feeling this beneficient glow of tolerance you think you’re emitting, that you’ve “condemned anyone’s religion except his own.”

                You certainly did, in your very next comment, banging on the fundies.

                Further, your romanticization of “free-thinking” and “science”—and religion its enemy—is less defensible than you appear to think.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Hmm. Perhaps it’s my bullshit allergy acting up again. Perhaps you’ll summon up something from Holy Writ to contradict my statement about what Jesus said. I read my New Testament in Textus Receptus Greek and the Old in Hebrew, a little skill I picked up in my father and grandfather’s libraries as a little boy.

                As Mark Twain observed, “The mind that becomes soiled in youth can never again be washed clean; I know this by my own experience, and to this day I cherish an unappeasable bitterness against the unfaithful guardians of my young life, who not only permitted but compelled me to read an unexpurgated Bible through before I was 15 years old. None can do that and ever draw a clean sweet breath again this side of the grave.”

                You will have to get up very early in the morning to discuss Christian theology with me. I am what you may call a Fundamentalist, that is to say, I believe the Fundamentals of Christianity are centered upon what Jesus of Nazareth did and said, about 70% of which can only be classified as condemnation of the Generation of Vipers who would eventually convince the Romans that Jesus was no friend of Caesar. Him will I follow all the days of my life, and you may tell a man by his enemies, as Jesus was by his enemies.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Oh, how I wish you were here for any number of previous theological discussions on this site…Report

              • Avatar tom van dyke says:

                Yes, BlaiseP, I recognized the Jefferson and Twain in your bent with a little Daoism or whatever for seasoning.

                I don’t really discuss truth claims [or their counterclaims] in secular political fora. Mr. Cheeks’ question about the stability of the polis sans “religion” holds, esp per Western Civilization. Or as GWash put it, ” Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”

                I stipulate you have such an education and such a peculiar structure of mind, and I’m no fundie either. However—and you seem to have jujitsued the marxism of the ruling academic class into an attack on the fundies—I’m a supporter of religious pluralism, that people have a right to believe stupid shit. Indeed, I actively defend that right, as in this instance.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                You simply cannot leave well enough alone. I resist labeling. I’m a strong enough flavor, all on my own, to need little seasoning. I resorted to Kukai lest I seem to preach, another thing I won’t do.

                The polis and its Religious Bent usually leads to crucifixion or the cup of hemlock, inevitably on the charges of Corruption of Youth, etc. As for George Washington and Adams, they would go on to institute Fasting Days and other Religious dongles and appurtenances and it would be Jefferson who would put an end to all that. It would also be Jefferson who established the supremacy of the Supreme Court.

                It is hardly attacking the Fundamentalists to tell the truth about them and their agenda, putting the lie to their claims about a Christian Nation and many another confabulation.

                Karl Marx was a keen observer of his era, and resists being made into a Straw Man. If Academia has a profoundly liberal bent, you may chalk it up to those academics actually reading the texts, and not the Conservative Cliff’s Notes and attendant Shibboleths. I recommend a thorough reading of Edmund Burke for every would-be Conservative, for what now passes for Conservatism has more in common with the Taliban than Burke, trying to return to a past that never was.

                They are always
                I stipulate you have such an education and such a peculiar structure of mind, and I’m no fundie either. However—and you seem to have jujitsued the marxism of the ruling academic class into an attack on the fundies—I’m a supporter of religious pluralism, that people have a right to believe stupid shit. Indeed, I actively defend that right, as in this instance.Report

              • Avatar tom van dyke says:

                Well enough is left alone now, BlaiseP, as you’ve revealed your true colors.

                Your Jefferson was easy, as you make the same theological truth claim to the “real” Christianity. Indeed, like you, he claimed to be “a sect upon himself.” The study of the texts in the original Greek was just gravy.

                However, be it radically religious or radically irreligious, I meself neither accept or assert theological truth claims in fora like this one.

                As for the efficacy of “Marxism” as a hermeneutic to explain not just his time but all others, or the “real” Aquinas that you so casually dismiss, or the religious nature of the American Founding, there is plenty of time to unpack them. At least now your stance and method are clear.

                That one gets to Jesus from Nietzsche [or is it the other way around?] is a fascinating proposition, although I do see some possible incoherences.Report

              • Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

                Fascinating Tom! You are a brilliant interlocutor, my friend!Report

              • Avatar Rufus F. says:

                Tom, I can’t tell from the title what the paper is arguing, especially it’s a history paper. What was the thesis and what is the problem with the essay in your opinion? I’m open to the idea that it’s offensive, but I can’t tell from the title. Maybe I’ll just email the guy and ask about his work.

                Also, the “tax dollars at work” thing is a bit unfair. If you teach at a public university, you get paid to teach, and a certain percentage of your pay (often about 20-30%) would come from tax money.

                But, research funding usually comes from other sources. For me at least, all of my research was privately funded, either out-of-pocket or through private grants. Even though a certain percentage of my savings must have come from tax dollars, I don’t feel obligated to do research that makes the public happy. It’s like, when I blog here, even though I get some money to teach from tax dollars, I don’t feel like I’m working for the public, nor do I feel like my writing here is anyone’s tax dollars at work.Report

              • Avatar Rtod says:

                Hey, hey- back off! You’re using a bunch of facts to correct a carefully constructed and popular meme. We don’t want to start thinking at this time of life.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Environmental Morality and Artisanal Pork: Local Food to Save the Planet

                Presumably “Green Eggs And Ham: Make Money By Cashing In On The Free Range Thing” would have had more folks protesting.Report

              • Avatar Rufus F. says:

                Jay, I get what you’re saying. The problem I have with a lot of literary crtiticism (which Brockmann seems to agree with) is that it’s predicated on the idea that you know the material inside and out first, and then can critique it, second; but most undergrads are not well-grounded in Shakespeare when they show up at university, so making these critiques just reinforces their youthful contempt for canonical works that they still don’t know very well.

                But, let me also point out that the ‘humanities’ extend far beyond the literature department. I went to a lit conference last year and was totally bowled over about how different what they’re doing is from anything we’re doing in history. They were probably closer in the 80s, but I don’t even think we understand each other anymore.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                But, let me also point out that the ‘humanities’ extend far beyond the literature department. I went to a lit conference last year and was totally bowled over about how different what they’re doing is from anything we’re doing in history. They were probably closer in the 80s, but I don’t even think we understand each other anymore.

                I would *LOVE* to read an essay talking about this in great detail.Report

              • Avatar Rufus F. says:

                Jay, I will definitely post something at some point. I’m teaching my own course for the first time this semester, so the list of planned posts is getting much longer than the list of completed posts.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Oooh! I was an essay about *THAT* too!Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Er, want.

                I mean, I understand that you are probably swamped and swamped hard and the last thing that you probably think about when you stumble home after spending the day giving speeches and leading discussions and reading essays and writing lectures is sit down at yet another computer to write yet another essay.

                Take your time, do what is good for you, take your vitamins, get plenty of rest, and, if you get free time, go on a date and don’t spend it sitting in front of a computer.

                But if you have any extra time on top of that, I’d love to read more stuff.Report

              • ” I went to a lit conference last year and was totally bowled over about how different what they’re doing is from anything we’re doing in history.

                If you don’t have time for a complete essay, how about just explaining what the word “doing” means in the above sentence?Report

              • Avatar Rufus F. says:

                The reasearch they’re doing and how they’re understanding it with the theoretical models they’re using. The dream back in the 80s was that we’d be so interdisciplinary at this point that you could do research that was easily applicable in several different humanities fields and easily understand the ideas coming out of those fields. We’re really not there at all. When we get lit students in our history seminars, and when you get a history grad student like me at a lit conference, it’s a bit like two foreign nations encountering each other for the first time.Report

              • Avatar tom van dyke says:

                Rufus, it’s my opinion, based on crossing swords with these types, that they have little grounding in classical or medieval philosophy, and what they know of the Bible is restricted to the Sermon on the Mount and the slaughter of the Amalekites [not that they actually know their name.]

                Historians [on the whole, mind you] work backward instead from their 21st century sensibilities, or at least no further back than the Enlightenment, viewed through the race-class-gender “marxist” prism. They do not understand the people back then as they understood themselves; they cannot.Report

              • Avatar Rufus F. says:

                Ah, Tom, I don’t know. I think part of this is that you’re “crossing swords” with these people- the type of academic who goes around crossing swords with people over these political issues are sort of typical, but also sort of not. Most of them I know personally are the type to hang out in the library alone all day. When I think of the type of historian you call rare- someone rooted in an erudite understanding of classical and medieval philosopher, I think of a guy in our department who knew the stuff inside and out. He wasn’t the combative type. Actually, he barely ever expressed an opinion in meetings. He just researched, wrote, and taught for several years. Then he died of a heart attack last year, and I ended up with a lot of his books. I’m reading Castiglione and Meister Eckhart now. What did he think of academe? I’d love to have asked him.

                As for the genderraceclass stuff, I sort of agree- people rely way too heavily on those prisms. It gets old. It is old. But I also don’t get why conservatives seem to think that race, gender and class are simply illegitimate areas of historical inquiry- like I’m supposed to hear that a paper studies gender in some area of history and know, without reading it, that it’s shallow and without merit. As for “marxism”, it’s hard to say. Someone must still be a Marxist in history. But, all of the academics in my department made a big deal out of “rejecting” Marxism in the 80s as an unworkable “grand narrative”. My understanding is that a big part of being “pomo” was rejecting one’s youthful Marxism as a god that failed. So, the only Marxists I’ve encountered in my department are all “ex-Marxists”. I think it’s a generational thing.

                But, here’s my problem- really, what you’re complaining about is a deficiency and you’re framing it as an overabundance. You want to see more historians working on the topics that you think are being overlooked. Hey, me too! You know what would make my day, as someone who would like to spend a lot more time studying those things? Funding! Scholarships! Support from people! Why didn’t conservatives who felt that these areas were being overlooked start an insurgency movement in the 80s? By now, you’d have tons of support networks for people who want to study topics that aren’t in the genderraceclass prism. Maybe they wouldn’t get tenure, but so what! Most of us teaching aren’t tenure-track now. I thought conservatives were anti-tenure anyway.

                Instead, conservatives have got tons of websites bitching endlessly about academia and tons of books making money by bitching about academia, and nothing whatsoever to show for it in four decades of having a problem with academia. Oh, except for the phasing out of tenure. Thanks for that.

                I went through a phase of being pissed at academia for regarding Foucault so highly and being too hard on Aristotle. But, the problem is that I want to change things- I want to reform academia. I want to remake it. Hell, I probably want to teach the things you want to see taught. But, frankly, I’m not convinced that conservatives have any goals beyond, 1. Sell a lot of books, 2. Maybe get some professors fired, 3. End tenure, 4. Convince bright conservative undergrads to forget about grad school.

                Frankly, I suspect that conservatives are too emotionally-invested in the collapse of academia to take part in its reform. I’d love to be proven wrong though.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                Why didn’t conservatives who felt that these areas were being overlooked start an insurgency movement in the 80s?

                Because conservatives replaced academia, which was not only subject to fads but had those annoying “academic freedom” and “tenure”things, with think tanks. Much more effective for ensuring that research leads to the proper conclusions.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Because conservatives replaced academia, which was not only subject to fads but had those annoying “academic freedom” and “tenure”things, with think tanks. Much more effective for ensuring that research leads to the proper conclusions.

                This reminds me of the argument that “the media” is not Liberal. After all, Rush Limbaugh has really good rating on the AM dial! Also, Fox News!Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                This reminds me of the argument that “the media” is not Liberal.

                It’s liberal only if that means “I’m not liberal and it doesn’t say everything I think it should.”Report

              • Avatar tom van dyke says:

                Rufus, I’m trying to use “marxist” nonpejoratively. Neither do such folks actually “cross swords” for very long; they prefer to stick to their echo chambers.

                As you can see, here for example


                such reservations are not only just my own, nor are they simply David Horowitz’, re mere partisan politics. [Although on one hand you seem to condemn his ilk and on the other, seem to think “conservatives” should construct some anti-movement against the favoring of Foucault over Aristotle.]

                Neither do I require that one be an Aristotle scholar before tackling his significance in shaping Western Civilization. But a genuine awareness of his thought and that of his successors [say, Aquinas]—and how it was received in various times—is more necessary than a knowledge of Marx and Rawls for genuine understanding.

                Tonight, I heard Dr. Michio Kaku’s radio show characterize Europe of 1500 simply as “mired in the Inquisition.”

                What complete nonsense coming from a such a highly credentialed gentleman.


                But this is the narrative.

                Now the form of defense in most of these comments has been counterattacks on conservatives outside the academy. Again, such tu quoque is no defense or engagement with the core problem, which is not one of red-blue partisanship per se. That would be a needless reductionism and a substitution of heat for light. The problem is indeed what you put your finger on, Aristotle and Foucault.Report

              • Avatar Rufus F. says:

                “Now the form of defense in most of these comments has been counterattacks on conservatives outside the academy.”

                Well, I made some other points, but you mostly ignored them.

                “Again, such tu quoque is no defense or engagement with the core problem, which is not one of red-blue partisanship per se. That would be a needless reductionism and a substitution of heat for light. The problem is indeed what you put your finger on, Aristotle and Foucault.”

                Sure, but I actually engage with the core problem every day of the week. My professional life is pretty wrapped up in addressing the problem. That’s why I went to grad school- to do more research into the sorts of things that I feel are being too often overlooked. And, besides, more important than research is teaching- that’s the sacred mission- all week long, I’m trying to teach the things that I want preserved by the next generation, to someday be a steward of culture. You should look at my course material- it’s all the western canon and military greatness- it’s like a conservative wet dream.

                So, yeah, I’m aesthetically and intellectually aligned with a lot of the “cultural conservatives” when it comes to academia. Here’s why they still piss me off more than the guy teaching “Foucaultian discourse and the gendering of embodied subjectivity”- I’ll give you a cheap metaphor:

                I’m on the field. Okay? I’m in the middle of the game and our backs are to the wall, and I’m not happy with some of the other players, nor with the refs or the plays the coach is calling for. But I’m out there giving it my all. And where are the conservatives who constantly mouth support for the sort of teaching I’m trying to do? They’re in the bleachers, bitching. They’re saying the players are all jerks, and the game is fixed, and it should be shut down. Bitch, bitch, bitch. Half of what they’re saying is complete bullshit and the other half is fairly unhelpful. And when you tell them, hey, if you don’t like it, you should suit up and join the game, they say, “Nah, I never tried out for the team because I know they wouldn’t let me in, even if I did try”. Because, Tom, I’m on the committee that reads all those grad school applications for our department, and believe me, they’re not trying out for the team.

                So, no, I don’t think the problem is the guy teaching Foucault, frankly- I think it’s the guy who would love to teach Aquinas, but who’s too much of a wimp to go to grad school instead of bitching in the bleachers. It’s easy to complain. But, so far, it’s accomplished very little, aside from fundraising.Report

              • Avatar tom van dyke says:

                Rufus, the state of the academy and the conservative reaction to it are two different things, is all.

                Indeed, I wish I could agree with Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind past the title and general thrust, as his arguments find the ditch rather quickly. I fear the rest of the “conservatives” are victims of the academy’s narrative as well, just as miseducated as its supporters.

                I certainly do admire you for being “on the field,” and our discussion has been one more of agreement than debate.

                Alas, I meself, as a late-in-life autodidact catching up on all the things I should have learned—make that simply “learned of,” as learned of their existence—cannot get on the field with you, and make my poor contribution to the sustenance of Western Civilization from here on the sidelines. If it’s of any help or importance, I do original research on the source documents of the Founding and pre-Founding eras, and report the results at my home [group]blog. The blog is consulted by some of the more daring members of the academy, so I console myself that even sideline coaches have some value.

                But you’re the one suited up and walking out between the white lines, and have my admiration and best wishes. I understand the precariousness of your position: in the academy, it’s better to be caught in bed with a live communist than a dead conservative.Report

            • Avatar Simon K says:

              Well, yes, it was supposed to be political. But plenty of people on the left and in academia were saying “look, this is stupid, can we do something useful please?” for about 25 years until it somehow became a political issue in itself that people were talking nonsense and drawing political conclusions from it.Report

  4. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    Upon reflection, reading all the comments, (and putting three children through college) it’s my observation the Humanities departments have lost their way. Ninety percent of all benefits derived from undergraduate education are the friends you’ll make along the way, the discussions you’ll have with people who disagree with you, the books you’ll read.

    The remaining ten percent is learning to write a paper. It’s the most useful skill of all, learning to write effectively. It does not matter which profession you choose: you will always be called upon to present information in a cogent, readable and appropriate manner.

    These days, I shepherd dozens of alternately frightened and witless or arrogant and witless children through the minefield of Corporate America. The Computer Science types fare the worst. They know nothing of people, what motivates them, the various sorts of people in this wicked world. People may be hired for their abilities but they are always sacked for their personalities.

    The Humanities teach us to be human. You cannot be an educated person and not know Raskolnikov or Gulliver or Hector or Plato’s Phaedo or Funes the Memorious. True, they aren’t directly applicable to anything you’ll ever do for money, and that is the whole point. You cannot sail far without the whole map of human history and literature at your disposal. Without the Humanities, you will never learn how to learn, for the vastness of your ignorance will never become apparent. Confronted with what you do not understand, a sound Humanities education will teach you to view it as a learning opportunity. The Humanities will teach you to say “I do not know”.

    The Humanities free us from our fears of learning, presents us with the rich pageant of humankind in literature and puts us in context. I can teach a gibbon to write Java. I cannot teach him to respect the people who will use the software he writes.Report

    • Avatar Heidegger says:

      Beautiful writing there, Blaise. I’m not sure what your feelings, beliefs, predilections are regarding to the “God” question, but I’d bet you’re a passionate pantheist. Just a hunch. I’d also guess you’re a passionate contrapuntalist, and love J.S. Bach. Again, just a hunch. And the “48” might just be your musical Bible, too!Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP says:

        Thank you for your kind words. Tears sprang to my eyes, they came as something of a shock. You have guessed shrewdly. The Goldberg Variations and the 48 Preludes have been my solace in hard times.

        I am a Christian, insofar as I would emulate Jesus Christ, who never condemned anyone’s religion except his own. Religion grows on a culture as a flower grows on a plant, each true to its own heritage. Religion is a big nothing, a framework upon which faith can be hung, christenings and weddings and funerals and the like. I consider myself a man of science, and the atheists to be the canaries in the coal mine of a free society.

        The atheists are a little new to this business, their frenetic attempts to claim an exclusive patent on truth resembles religion’s ridiculous claims to the same. Hopefully the furore will all die down in time, as everyone gets used to the right to freedom of conscience. Everyone has his doubts. We also have each other in such moments: nothing unites so much as tragedy and celebrations.

        It is a solitary journey, this following Jesus business, very different than espousing mere religion and following its dictates. God sees the world through the eyes of the refugees. I have served their cause, as did my father and mother, and theirs.

        For five years, I have lived on the road, gathering money for retirement and loneliness is the occupational hazard of my job. Writing and photography are my outlets: music denied me. Hard to lug a piano around in my truck.Report

        • Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

          Then, what, the tension of existence is a nihilistic affectation? No, I don’t think so.Report

          • Avatar BlaiseP says:

            By no means. I resort to Kukai’s Ten Stages, a bit of a cheap shot, yes, but here’s how it might work.

            At the first stage, we are guided by superstition and emotion. As we advance, we begin to consider others, evolve some version of the Golden Rule, perhaps adopt a given religion. We do as we are told, following along, a bit helplessly. Once we gain our sea legs, we begin to understand the Phaedo, the distinction between the physical and spiritual, discarding most of the credulity of the earlier stages. Not content with this dichotomy, we long for perfect knowledge and suspect there are infinities we cannot understand.

            Here mercy begins to enters the heart. We contemplate the suffering of the world and do what we may to alleviate it. In so doing, joy can enter us, and it drives away lust and greed and the things of this world. What remains among the ashes of the self is quite beyond understanding, a vague memory of what once seemed so vital, a happy suspicion every moment contains every other moment, the sort of thing John Donne described so well. Here there is no tension, it was all a child’s nightmare. The universe is filled with the most extraordinary miracles, love and compassion and the unity of all things.Report

            • Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

              Bravo, brilliant and insightful stuff.
              How then, do we understand/deal with the experience of the loss of the cosmic-divine as a sacral ordering force in our society? Has science moved us beyond any noetic necessity of the sacred or is it necessary to recapture/rearticulate/resymbolize the truth of the grounding relationship between contingent being and the necessary being of the ‘world-transcendent God’ not only to restore the primary ordering force of the polis but the opportunity to existentially gain the knowledge/experience/understanding of the Logos as the differentiated reality of the Divine?Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                I am astonished at your kindness. I had rather expected more push-back.

                How can we contend with the loss of the cosmic-divine? Here, my prescription may not work for everyone, I’m pretty sure it won’t. Yet consider the definitions of the Divine in the West: here I contend it’s a product of our insistence on dividing the mind from the body, Platonic ideals, the Self of the Phaedo. The Romans aped the Greeks but it was a cargo cult: where the Greeks had demanded intellectual rigor, the Romans never did.

                Eventually one among many mystery cults became the One True Faith and the Divine was what the Church said it was.

                While it was oppressed, this cult was a hopeful thing, with a message that man should love God and love his neighbor as himself: that we must die to self and be born again of the spirit to become sons of a God who loved us. Once granted temporal power, this mystery cult rousted its enemies and settled into centuries of intellectual and spiritual torpor. Like many another species in this predicament, it lost the ability to fly in the absence of predators and grew very large.

                Yet Christianity did serve many useful purposes and did not lose sight of the Greeks entirely. It was the plaster cast around the broken arm of Europe. But the bone mended quickly enough and the cast became a filthy lacuna of un-science and un-philosophy, case in point Aquinas, trying to square Christian doctrine with Aristotle’s virtues. It would never work, but the effort continued from both sides, philosophical and theological, culminating in Hegel.

                Along comes Nietzsche to cut off that cast. What a stench when that withered arm at last saw the light of day! Dr. Nietzche prescribed some badly needed physical therapy and Europe howled like the damned. But even Nietzsche was still laboring under the fundamental idiocy of the Self and its role in society.

                It seems in the intervening years the messages of both Jesus and Aristotle had been lost, that we do not live to ourselves nor do we die to ourselves. We exist in a context. We are part of something, a universe worth understanding. Science was never the enemy of faith. Je pense que je suis, a lonely proposition, this. Far more satisfying, far more robust a statement is this: J’aime, que je suis. To love, we strive to understand the beloved.Report

              • Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

                Thank you and much enjoyed.
                “Yet consider the definitions of the Divine in the West: here I contend it’s a product of our insistence on dividing the mind from the body, Platonic ideals, the Self of the Phaedo.”

                The classical Greeks developed an understanding of the Nous as the pull of the Ground toward beauty, goodness, and truth but this was but one pole of the Whole of existence with the opposite pole of the tension, the transcendent, as that which is explicated in the pneumatic irruption; together these poles are the construct of man’s reality and permit him, consciously, to comphrend existence, truth, reality, God. The Greeks identified this as the Metaxy. If the Greeks defined existence/reality as such, what prompts the modern to error so grossly in the ideological derailment you’ve identified above?

                Your historical analysis is interesting. I would, however, suggest some study of the mystics during the period you’re analyizing; also see Voegelin’s critique of ‘doctrinization’, if you’re not familiar with his work in this area.

                Unless I missed it and I may have, you didn’t answer my query re: the relationship of the loss of faith to the collapse of modernity and how one goes about restoring order. I’m looking forward to your comments here. Also, why is the social order collapsing, if indeed, it is?Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Modernity, as I see it, is inherently secular. At the risk of invoking Godwin’s Ghost, I’d like to point to theoretical Fascism as the ultimate Modernist Philosophy. For a while, Fascism was deeply appealing, sweeping away fusty old appeals to authority, throwing out junk, cutting the Gordian Knot of Democracy, the power of the State controlled by the efficiency of the Corporation.

                Modernism came to grief at the end of WW2. The Communists went on worshipping at the Altar of Progress though, making human sacrifices to the Chairman.

                So what’s a good French boy to do after he’s been caught cuddling with the Fascists? Become an Existentialist and cuddle up to the Communists, that’s what. The French had hated the Church since the French Revolution and what followed, with excellent reasons. There was no faith to be lost, only the troubled consciences of ten thousand French fascist collaborators and Communist sympathizers. Lost in their theories, they bemoaned their fate. As Morpheus observed, “Fate is not without a sense of irony.”Report

              • Avatar Heidegger says:

                Blaise, your comments are completely blowing my mind! Absolutely love them. And this is coming from a right-wing crackpot, fascist, bigot, homophobe, elitist, authoritarian loving conservative and any other number of slurs thrown in my direction. I welcome them all! I should be sending you money for my continuing education–I particular love the vastness of your historical perspective–from the Goldbergs to the Manhattan Project and beyond! I think, with a bit of time, you might even become a Theist. Okay, granted, that’s a bit of a stretch but you never know…in the meantime, shall always look forward to any and all comments by the inestimable, BlaiseP Vielan Dank!

                p.s. 5-part Fugue in eb minor from WTC Bk. 1 is an architectural masterpiece–up there with the Great Pyramids!Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Gosh, so many pejoratives, so little time.

                Q: How do you terrorize a Theist?
                A: Burn a large wooden Question Mark on his lawn.Report

        • Avatar Heidegger says:

          You’re quite welcome, Blaise. How heartening to know another Bachofile exists beyond the horizon. And I
          LIVE for the Goldbergs!! Had a great opportunity to play a recital of the mighty Goldbergs on my brother’s home made harpsichord–sheer ecstasy–Bach NEVER lets you down. I even have my own Bach altar–okay, also a Beethoven altar too—imagine Beethoven, with all his pianos–all, with legs cut off–his face flat on the floor “hearing” his music–the sound vibrations of the piano travelling through the hard wooden floors and his utterly mad ecstasy “hearing” his music!! His joyful screaming heard throughout the streets of Vienna, at all hours of the night, when he knew when he had it just “right”—couldn’t God have more than one son? My biggest objection to atheism is it is so deadly dull, lifeless, pessimistic, uninspiring, prosaic—hey, it’s just no fun to embrace such a colorless universe. Man’s logic is not God’s logic.Report

  5. Avatar tom van dyke says:

    Mr. Cheeks, I became an aficionado of the League during the proposed debate between First Things’ Joe Carter and the late great former Gentleman Mr. Brown.

    I fear I had a hand in derailing it in asking that they actually agree on a debate topic. You know, like Proposed: That Christianity Sucks or Proposed: That Christianity Saved Western Civilization. Something with a discernible affirmative and negative, and a topic to stick to.

    So I appreciate the compliment, Bob, and this has no bearing on the current discussion with BlaiseP, but I pass on for amusement purposes only what the former Gentleman had in mind:


    Having been around the internet block more than a few times, I’d rather sussed out Mr. Brown’s intentions, and wanted to spare both Mr. Carter and the League from such agony.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      For the life of me, I cannot imagine taking myself that seriously.

      Unless, of course, he’s being ironic and mocking himself on a couple of levels. I suppose that I can see that. But I suspect that, no, he’s serious.

      Friggin’ atheists.Report