Tag Archives: truth

Beautiful life project, with heavy books.

After a brief introduction to Japanese literature and culture for a few months of 2019, when I joined a Japanese Literature Challenge, I decided to leave behind the aesthetic vision of Japan, so to speak, and explore the reality and idea of Beauty in a less specific and encultured way.

My remodeling project and accompanying disorder are the reason, I believe, that I haven’t been able to concentrate on this extended philosophical reading project. It could be also that the topic is just too out-of-sync with the situation in my (indoor) living space. The chaos results from having none of the planned-for storage finished — that’s closets and cabinets in six or seven rooms — and that situation is abetted by the pandemic shutdowns of various sorts. The pandemic itself taxes the mind and emotions, and lately I’ve been reading more children’s books than anything.

But, the planned exploration looms large in the background, and its bulk has increased in a physical way, by means of big books. (I consider The Book of Tea to be about beauty, and it was by contrast such a slim and elegant item!) I’m not going to tell you about all of my Beauty books yet. Goodness, I haven’t begun anything in earnest. But the last one that came into the house was only recently published, and I may be most excited of all about it.

It’s The Ethics of Beauty by Timothy G. Patitsas, and it “weighs in” at over 700 pages. Professor Patitsas explains in the first sentence of his Preface what he is about: “…to recover a lost way of doing Ethics, one in which love for Beauty played the central and the leading role.” He shows how the definition of contemporary ethics, when seen in terms of Socrates’ three transcendentals of Beauty, Goodness, and Truth (ethics being the study of Goodness), is biased against Beauty. A little more from the Preface:

“The central text about Orthodox Christian prayer life, The Philokalia, itself means ‘the love of the beautiful.’ The Ethics of Beauty is best conceived as a prose companion to that spiritual collection — certainly not on the same level as that classic text, but hopefully recognizably in the same family. Where The Philokalia is an aid to the pursuit of the Beautiful Way in prayer, The Ethics of Beauty is a discussion of why the Beauty-first Way is preferable, and an examination of the Way within as many areas of life as possible.”

“I would never have set out upon the journey that led me to The Ethics of Beauty had I not read Jonathan Shay’s observation in his Achilles in Vietnam that contemporary analytical psychotherapy has been largely unable to heal the suffering of the soldiers afflicted most severely with post-traumatic stress disorder. I have slowly come to see that… the initial focus of soul-healing must be on Beauty rather than on truth, on a living vision of a loving and crucified God, rather than on an autopsy of the broken self.”

Hmmm… I wouldn’t be surprised if Dee Pennock talks about this healing effect of Beauty in her book that I recently mentioned.

But, going back to the beginning of my vague plan, about a year ago I brought a fat book about Beauty and Truth into the house. The priest who lent it to me said he’d been unable to penetrate it. I knew it would likely be as heavy for me intellectually as it was in poundage, but it seemed a work I should at least have at hand when I began my study of Beauty.

This one is The Beauty of the Infinite, by David Bentley Hart; I had never yet opened it to read a line, but it’s been sitting on my mobile bookshelf in the kitchen/family room. When the Patitsas book arrived, I took Hart’s book off the shelf behind me and set it on the table so that the two could meet. And a few days later, avoiding some work, I’m sure, I opened Hart randomly in the middle, and my eyes landed here:

“…theology owes Nietzsche a debt: I intend nothing facetious in saying that Nietzsche has bequeathed Christian thought a most beautiful gift, a needed anamnesis of itself — of its strangeness. His critique is a great camera obscura that brings into vivid and concentrated focus the aesthetic scandal of Christianity’s origins, the great offense this new faith gave the gods of antiquity, and everything about it that pagan wisdom could neither comprehend nor abide: a God who goes about in the dust of exodus for love of a race intransigent in its particularity; who apparels himself in common human nature, in the form of a servant; who brings good news to those who suffer and victory to those who are as nothing; who dies like a slave and outcast without resistance; who penetrates to the very depths of hell in pursuit of those he loves and who persists even after death not as a hero lifted up to Olympian glories, but in the company of peasants, breaking bread with them and offering them the solace of his wounds. In recalling theology to the ungainliness of the gospel, Nietzsche retrieved the gospel from the soporific complacency of modernity….

My own philosophy and theology were settled already on this source of Beauty: the Holy Trinity, the relationship of love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. A few years ago Jonathan Edwards put me in mind of it in his thoughtful way, and maybe I should go back and read the extensive quotes I transcribed on the subject. But if I never get around to reading all these pages of words that are waiting for me in books, it’s okay. My heart knows the story.

Truth in a story of plague.

Only a few days ago I read, hastily as it turns out, a post on Fraise that got my attention because of what Mags wrote about Albert Camus:

Sartre accused Camus of expelling Christ from the front door of the house, only to let him in at the back. I think this sums up Camus’ respect for people of faith. But then Camus just respects all people, all the time, with all love and compassion. He certainly captures all the stages of illness and its accompanying fear that we’re experiencing now.

I don’t think I’d read any Camus since college, and maybe all I’d read was in high school French class, in French, which would mean I’d understood little at any level. But this made me want to read Camus for real. I continued in her post to read about Cyrano, and until this morning forgot that she was mentioning Camus because she had recently re-read his novel The Plague (La Peste – she read it in French.) Mostly what I retained was the phrase “love and compassion.”

Soon afterward I saw on Rod Dreher’s blog that he is hosting a sort of book club to read The Plague! So naturally I hopped on. I’ve been listening to the audio version while I wait for a used paperback to arrive. Dreher hopes to complete his website discussion within two weeks, so I may have to read everyone’s comments on his page later. I know I won’t go that fast. I have to work this book into my other Lenten reading, which is an unusual compendium this year!

I ran into my dear homeschooling friend Debbie in the store and told her I was starting The Plague; she laughed her delightful laugh and said, “Oh, Gretchen, you are reading that right now??”

Well, why not get some perspective on the current news? It has been very thought-provoking already, not far into the story, to compare the world today to that in which the story’s characters live and move. Camus in the first pages uses the word “modern” several times in describing them, and makes me curious to see how their story develops, and how their response to their epidemic might compare to that of us who are called “post-modern.”

One of the things that occurred to me immediately is something very much from the surface of the story, that our current “plague” is much nicer than the one whose graphically described, horrific symptoms spread through the town of Oran. I was a little worried about listening too close to bedtime, to the account of the rats coming into the streets to die their bloody deaths.

Please comment, if any of you have thought about this novel or have read it recently. (If you  have, you probably want to visit Dreher’s blog to see what goes on there.) I already noticed a few lines that I’d like to muse on when I have the print copy and can look longer at them. But until then, here is an idea I’ve thought about for a long time, but didn’t remember that the quote was from Albert Camus:

“Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth.”

The truth itself is calm.

Oh, how I love this aspect of the experience of summer as I have known it, in my youth and now in my older years… I never saw this poem before, and am thankful to Oliver Tearle and his Interesting Literature blog for the collection in which I found it.

The House Was Quiet and The World Was Calm

The house was quiet and the world was calm.
The reader became the book; and summer night
Was like the conscious being of the book.
The house was quiet and the world was calm.
The words were spoken as if there was no book,
Except that the reader leaned above the page,
Wanted to lean, wanted much most to be
The scholar to whom his book is true, to whom
The summer night is like a perfection of thought.
The house was quiet because it had to be.
The quiet was part of the meaning, part of the mind:
The access of perfection to the page.
And the world was calm. The truth in a calm world,
In which there is no other meaning, itself
Is calm, itself is summer and night, itself

Is the reader leaning late and reading there.

-Wallace Stevens

What method can do and is not.

Quoting again from David Bentley Hart’s The Experience of God. Hart spends a good while comparing what he calls the naturalistic vs. the theistic pictures of the world, so that he can eventually get on with describing the theistic, as in the title of the book.

…we should not let ourselves forget precisely what method is and what it is not. A method, at least in the sciences, is a systematic set of limitations and constraints voluntarily assumed by a researcher in order to concentrate his or her investigations upon a strictly defined aspect of or approach to a clearly delineated object. As such, it allows one to see further and more perspicuously in one particular instance and in one particular way, but only because one has first consented to confine oneself to a narrow portion of the visible spectrum, so to speak. Moreover, while a given method may grant one a glimpse of truths that would remain otherwise obscure, that method is not itself a truth. This is crucial to understand. A method, considered in itself, may even in some ultimate sense be “false” as an explanation of things and yet still be probative as an instrument of investigation; some things are more easily seen through a red filter, but to go through life wearing rose-colored spectacles is not to see things as they truly are.Rosecolored-glasses