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On the events in Paris, Rod Dreher and the Benedict Option

Sunday, November 15th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — contrasting the ideal with “this pragmatical, preposterous pig of a world” ]

A few weeks back I read a piece by Rod Dreher around the concept of a Benedict Option recently, and liked it well enough that it sits in a special folder I have labeled 3 Major Papers, waiting for me to find the time to write it up in detail, offering my own suggested buttresses and side chapels to Dreher’s overall quasi-monastic structure. The Option itself derives from a paragraph in Alasdair MacIntyre‘s book, After Virtue:

What matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us. And if the tradition of the virtues was able to survive the horrors of the last dark ages, we are not entirely without grounds for hope. This time however the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers? they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament. We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another — doubtless very different — St Benedict.


Here’s my koan, as of yesterday, hearing the news of the multiple attacks in Paris and following Twitter to peer and pierce as best I could through the immediate fog towards the kernel of the matter. It takes the form of two tweets, the second in response to the first:



My immediate reaction, dismayed at Dreher’s tweet, is to agree with Laura Seay‘s response. And I’m far from alone in this, as a glance at some other responses to Dreher easily confirms:



So that’s the koan, the paradox — and that’s the way I lean on it.

Except that Dreher in a piece titled Refugees & the Paris Attacks, wrote again, today, and made some points that tip me towards the other side of the koan / coin:

Hesepe, a village of 2,500 that comprises one district of the small town of Bramsche in the state of Lower Saxony, is now hosting some 4,000 asylumseekers, making it a symbol of Germany’s refugee crisis. Locals are still showing a great willingness to help, but the sheer number of refugees is testing them. The German states have reported some 409,000 new arrivals between Sept. 5 and Oct. 15 — more than ever before in a comparable time period — though it remains unclear how many of those include people who have been registered twice.

Six weeks after Chancellor Angela Merkel’s historic decision to open Germany’s borders, there is a shortage of basic supplies in many places in this prosperous nation. Cots, portable housing containers and chemical toilets are largely sold out. There is a shortage of German teachers, social workers and administrative judges. Authorities in many towns are worried about the approaching winter, because thousands of asylum-seekers are still sleeping in tents.

The contrast between the ideal and the real couldn’t be greater: God’s in his heaven — and the devil is in the details.


As for that “pragmatical, preposterous pig of a world” — WB Yeats in his poem, Blood and the Moon is describing Bishop Berkeley:

                                                      that proved all things a dream,
That this pragmatical, preposterous pig of a world, its farrow that so solid seem,
Must vanish on the instant if the mind but change its theme…

It amuses me that when I look the phrase “pragmatical pig” up to make sure I quote it accurately, Google wants to correct it to “pragmatic pig” — doesn’t that massive AI know its Yeats well enough at least to have caught on to his marvelous catch-phrase?


More on Rod Dreher and the Benedict Option as time permits and place allows..

DoubleQuoting the French Revolution

Saturday, November 14th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — I was thinking of France yesterday, writing this in a happier mood before the evening’s news broke — up next, and tricky to write, a first response to the Paris outrage ]



One of the great pleasures of my work on DoubleQuotes and the HipBone and Sembl Games is the discovery of earlier analogues to what I’m doing. My purpose, after all, is to take a common human cognitive practice and formalize it, thus sharpening it from a somewhat haphazard activity into a tool, a practice.

We have all had the thought, “and that reminds me” — it crops up without any special prompting whenever something happening in current time calls up the memory of something similar experienced in the past, and our store of memories is pretty significant. On that last point, the great American poet Robert Frost once said:

Scholars and artists thrown together are often annoyed at the puzzle of where they differ. Both work from knowledge? but I suspect they differ most importantly in the way their knowledge is come by. Scholars get theirs with conscientious thoroughness along projected lines of logic? poets theirs cavalierly and as it happens in and out of books. They stick to nothing deliberately, but let what will stick to them like burrs where they walk in the fields.

Thyat’s from Frost’s essay, The Figure A Poem Makes, and it’s fascinating to me how much of that essay seems to apply not just to poems but equally to DoubleQuotes, HipBone and Sembl. Frost continues:

Knowledge of the second kind is much more available in the wild free ways of wit and art. A schoolboy may be defined as one who can tell you what he knows in the order in which he learned it. The artist must value himself as he snatches a thing from some previous order in time and space into a new order with not so much as a ligature clinging to it of the old place where it was organic.

I’d remembered Frost’s remark about knowledge sticking to people “like burrs where they walk in the fields” because it’s the most concise statement I know that explains the extraordinary amount of knowledge, in the sense of available-if-required-memory, that each and every human, not just the university-credentialed kind, acquires across a lifetime — some people know gang colors, tats, and graffiti, or sexual hanky code as others know Herodotus and Ibn Khaldun, or the different colored scarves of the Oxford colleges.

I don’t believe that I’d read Frost’s whole essay before today, although I may have — but you can see how closely his artist who “snatches a thing from some previous order in time and space into a new order” corresponds with my basic cognitive motion of DoubleQuotes as described it above, when “something happening in current time calls up the memory of something similar experienced in the past” and its qualifying remark, “without any special prompting”!

GMTA, or just GTA — thought, or theft? Who knows.


One other quote from Frost’s essay amplifies the unexpected nature of a single HipBone or DoubleQuotes play:

For me the initial delight is in the surprise of remembering something I didn’t know I knew.

The passage continues, extending Frost’s description of the poem from a single initial linkage to the sort of web of linkages that characterize HipBone and Sembl games:

There is a glad recognition of the long lost and the rest follows. Step by step the wonder of unexpected supply keeps growing. The impressions most useful to my purpose seem always those I was unaware of and so made no note of at the time when taken, and the conclusion is come to that like giants we are always hurling experience ahead of us to pave the future with against the day when we may Want to strike a line of purpose across it for somewhere.


The natural response to the sequence from crown to guillotine at the head of this post is found in the motto “the king is dead; long live the king”. The sentiment is best known in French, as these two books attest:

chateaubriand monardhie republicaine

The Vicomte Chateaubriand was a monarchist. Charbonneau and Guimier speak of a “republican monarchy” — “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”, perhaps?

Sunday surprise, surprise

Sunday, November 8th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — quoting Emerson next to Arthur Waley on Li Po ]

SPEC DQ emerson waley li po

Must Beethoven really roll over?

Wednesday, October 21st, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — time, like an ever rolling stream, bears all its sons away ]

I’m more than a little proud of these two tweets from my nephew, the conductor Daniel Harding, who was in Japan at the time of the March 2011 quake:

SPEC Daniel Harding Tokyo quake

I remembered them today while reading Anna Goldsworthy‘s The Lost Art of Listening — subtitled Has classical music become irrelevant?


Goldsworthy’s central theme is this:

Reports of the death of classical music are not new. There are those who have made a career out of eulogising it, such as the English journalist Norman Lebrecht, who has written the same book on the subject several times; the late pianist and musicologist Charles Rosen quipped that “the death of classical music is perhaps its oldest continuing tradition”. Classical music has absorbed a number of deaths already – the death of patronage, of the composer-virtuoso, of tonality. Clearly it is made of stern stuff, but can it survive the death of its audience?

It was this sentence, however, that reminded me so vividly of Daniel’s tweets:

Might there be a concert a few decades hence in which – God willing – my trio is still performing, but only to an audience of one? And if that listener were to perish mid performance, would we keep playing?


I’m wondering whether Goldsworthy’s question — Has classical music become irrelevant? — may not parallel a similar concern about poetry.

Language shifts. Eliot caught it nicely:

                                  Words strain,
Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,
Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place,
Will not stay still.

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival has announced its plan to “provide translated texts in contemporary modern English as performable companion pieces for Shakespeare’s original texts..” The OSF comments:

We have asked the writers to limit their efforts to updating the more antiquated language in the plays. Shakespeare’s works are all written in modern English; it’s just that in the last 400 years, many of the words, phrases and references have fallen out of use. So our focus is squarely on translating this antiquated language to increase understanding, while maintaining the vibrancy of the original.

So there you have it: Shakespeare’s works are all written in modern English; it’s just that..

And so the wheel turns.


When I was researching 4chan clues to the recent Umpqa shooting, I had to avail myself of the Urban Dictionary to learn the meanings of such terms as sperg out, pepe, normie, edgelord


A poster on an Internet forum, (particularly 4chan) who expresses opinions which are either strongly nihilistic, (“life has no meaning,” or Tyler Durden’s special snowflake speech from the film Fight Club being probably the two main examples) or contain references to Hitler, Nazism, fascism, or other taboo topics which are deliberately intended to shock or offend readers

— and there isn’t even a definition for libcucks as yet. Hey, I’m an Ancient. It’s what happens to the young.

So I get the feeling Shakespeare may have now reached the point of obscurity that Chaucer had reached in 1951, when I was yet a child and Penguin published Neville Coghill‘s verse translation of The Canterbury Tales.


One of many notable comments in Goldsworthy’s piece was this:

In 1942 starving musicians performed Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 7 in Leningrad while the city was under siege. The musicians were given an hour-long ovation, and the concert was broadcast to German forces as a form of psychological warfare.

Pablo Neruda, Andrei Voznesensky: I’ve seen it suggested that poetry has urgency — and the large audiences to prove it — in those times and places where poets also risk imprisonment, perhaps torture, and even death.

Irina Ratushinskaya described her writing habits while in the Soviet Gulag:

In defiant prose, she tells of her refusal to cower in the camp “like a frightened mouse.” Determined to continue writing poetry, she would scratch verses onto bars of soap with the burnt end of a matchstick. One poem described “the first beauty which I saw in this captivity: a window in the frost!” Another confided: “We live stubbornly/like a small beast who’s gnawed off his paw/ to get out of a trap on three.” After memorizing her words she would wash the evidence away. Later she copied the poems, in minute handwriting, onto four-centimeter—wide strips of cigarette paper and smuggled them out to Igor, who passed them on to Western journalists. “All poets should have such a school,” she says now, with a laugh. “It taught me to be very spare and concise.”


Daniel’s tweets:

  • Daniel Harding, Wonderful atmosphere on strangest of days
  • Daniel Harding, Would have played just for the 69 year old
  • Oregon Shakespeare Festival announcements:

  • News Release, OSF Launches Three-Year Shakespeare Translation Commissioning Project
  • Play On FAQ, 36 playwrights translate Shakespeare
  • Next year, Daniel takes up the post of music director of the Orchestre de Paris.

    Whose mind hath the finer blade?

    Monday, October 12th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — robert frost, the poet, or yogi berra, the player? ]

    SPEC Frost Yogi


    Also of interest, Frost‘s comment, quoted on the Classic Poetry Pages:

    One stanza of ‘The Road Not Taken’ was written while I was sitting on a sofa in the middle of England: Was found three or four years later, and I couldn’t bear not to finish it. I wasn’t thinking about myself there, but about a friend who had gone off to war, a person who, whichever road he went, would be sorry he didn’t go the other. He was hard on himself that way.

    As that page shows, I’m certainly not the first to note the overlap between Robert Frost and Yogi Berra — but it caught my attention today as I was reading a comment on Scott Aikin and Robert Talisse‘s On Some Yogisms:

    And “When you come to a fork in the road, take it,” was his joking way of giving directions to his NJ home. You could get there by going either way once you reached the fork he was referring to; both roads led to his house eventually.

    That gives a literal context to Berra’s flight of fancy — and yeah, some roads are looped, it’s true — but without the wit, there’s be no wisdom.


    Witty Wittgenstein, as apparently quoted by Ray Monk and in the Aikin and Talisse piece:

    A serious and good philosophical work could be written consisting entirely of jokes.

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