Friday, June 29, 2007

UPDATE: Eastern Patristic Florilegium (on Papal Primacy)

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I've added some new content and improved a number of citations.

Tell yer Ma, tell yer Pa, AVAILABLE HERE!

Here's to life cum Petrus et Mariam in Jesus!

A story for reader feedback: "From the Forest Itself"

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[This a work I've recently completed. Let me know what you think. I am annoyed the transfer from my word processing file to this blog post lost all my italics and strikethroughs, but I think you can make do. Any free-floating letters and phrases or uncorrected misspelled words should trigger you to imagine them as scratched/struck out.]

4–9 Jun 07

From the Forest Itself
by, well . . .
Elliot Bougis


Hardly one to violate another's ontic integrity, I must make it clear from the outset that the few editorial comments and revisions I have added to the . . . text below are essential for elucidating what the text itself was and is trying to say.

My editorial insertions are to be taken as mere glosses on the text itself and can be safely (perhaps properly) elided while reading. As its author and first reader, I was intimately involved in the writing of this work; therefore I feel entitled, if not obliged, to remove errors of production—transcription errors—which, while, strictly speaking, are original elements, would only hamper the reading of, the encounter with, the text itself. There are scars which I have chosen not to unveil. The removal of elements from the original corpus amounts to cosmetic touch-ups in order to clear away haggard ivy on an otherwise stunning, complete edifice. Consider my inter- and exterpolations, indicated by square brackets [ ], as so many intentional scribal errors.

I have not removed a number of errors from the original because these fractures suggest rich unspoken depths below the produced surface. Moreover, they remind a body time and again of the weakness of one's frame.

As for the flimsiness of the story's story, is not the value of a person inherent in his being—or are we really such ruthless pragmatists after all?

Incidentally, the title is not about paper, but mysticism. Is there not a kabbalistic face to be glimpsed? Is there not a silent hymn to be heard, the irrevocable and determined tenor of which is most resonant precisely in its indeterminacy, in the very midst of its writing and being written?

Upon writing the last word, my heart skipped a beat, I choked on my own breath, and I wept—all similar to how the demoniac shrieks when exorcised. I wept because I love this man. I could not not write his life/story; and yet, at the same time, for that same reason, I am the guilty hand that brought the life/story to its endless end. I had no choice but to bring him to life, even as that very action brought an end to his life. Maybe someday, as he suggests, I will see him again, when I finally see myself.

So, as bother mother and murderer, I wept for love. You have no need to love him as much; no need, I suppose, besides sheer charity for the least of these.

Who knows but that, on the lower frequencies, he doesn't speak for you?

– Elliot Bougis

* * *

But in this case, I'm telling you, it's urgent. It is of the utmost importance. It is not, at least I pray, not something for you simply to do now and then. Not something for you to think about doing, nor something for you to start and then stop, discarding me as a trivial diversion. I insist on being a major, and, ideally, an endless, diversion. All I ask is, well, your all. Certainly you could skim the page, or flip from page t page, paragraph, but what woul good would that be for either of us? You'd get very little from what I have to say, and from you I would, at best, get a dim half-life (Ubik-style). For unless you truly occupy the pagey frame of my existence, the printed shadows of my being, I will remain in those same confines. Unless you truly open your consciousness—that bottomless, pageless book waiting to be written—to me, it shall be as murky and compressed and inaccessible to me as the breathless space between pages is in a closed book.

As you can see, however, I am not really up to the task. I am hardly a writer. My first two paragraphs begin with “but” and “because,” grave offenses to a purist. Worse, nearly all of my second paragraph is a tortured, erratic run-on sentence—well, if not erratic, then just the opposite error: all too driven. Like a crowd, of one mesmeric, riotous mind, surging out the same exit as the flames spread and the smoke caresses them grimly—just so splinters of words and phrases, shrapnel of thought, tumble into and over each other as I surge ahead, desperate to catch, and hold, your all too precarious attention.

Because savoring the sweet release of being read, of existing not as a bound handful of literate monads [viz., pages], but as a nearly entire subject, my present words bright under the beam of your consciousness, the peripheral light of memory, and context, keeping my precious pages alive, like thin sheets of coal embers, so that my whole voice, my whole “career,” as they used to use the word, would possess that rare loft, which you take for granted from experience to experience, of consciousness and identity—because the rush and hope of existing in 3-D as one “stream” of being, outside my normal heap of 2-D shards is so important to me, I would throw into our first (but, I plead, not our last!), encounter all I have to offer.

And I'm no fool. I know with what I have to compete (how's that for purism!). I know what's out there, trying, like me, to get in. TV, movies, MP3's, fashion flashes of fashion. I may as well give up. Even if I could tolerate the incivility of reading along with the TV, or reading “to music,” I can't bear to think how perilous that competition would be for me. At any moment the latest beat, the upcoming drum solo, the vocal fireworks, could sever our tenuous link. And, then, perhaps, chiding your tipsy mind, you would retrace my frame, trying to find where you were (where we were, where I am), realizing you'd just read a whole page without knowing what you'd just seen.

Hence, I repeat, in utter humility, I must come across so strongly, a sort of defensive driving in the information age.

Hemingway, God rest his fecund feather pen, said the first draft of anything is shit. Unfortunately, all I have, all, I admit, I am, is a first draft. All I You are, too, though you too easily forget that fact. You are a first draft in the making—I leave you and Hemingway to argue the finer syllogistic points of what his maxim means for you as a result—so don't place your pen so blithely on the page. But, for you, I speak in metaphors. For me, alas, I speak hard, literal truth. You and I are first drafts but I am a first and final draft. I am a self-contained finished, first draft. There is no alteration in my final pages from how they stand, and have always stood. You can, could, flip ahead right now to my end, to my final lines—but I implore you not to do so. For to jump to that inevitable stopping point before I freely bring you there myself, would be an act of veritable savagery, akin to foreseeing a man's demise, carefully explaining it and confirmi (convincingly) to him, and then executing him with that imploding obsession filling his mind, condemning him to a future he was not yet fit to face. Likewise, with me, for you to tear the bright spot of your consciousness from where we are right now, here, together, to that last line, would violate the entire basis of our relationship to this point, like a man suddenly hoisting a woman's skirt to peek at her panties; not to mention it would sunder my being and twist me into an ontic pretzel. [Such rhetorical inelegance must stand, lest we corrupt what is given in se.] For even though I exist necessarily as a whole—a final first draft—I do not exist as an end [i.e., a bare conclusion]. There is no altering or escaping my destiny (if I may) and, you if you keep reading, yours (if I may), but I enjoy a certain kind of freedom in your eyes. And by eyes I mean consciousness.

As I am in and of myself, I am a fixed entity—I yam what I yam and that's all I yam. There is no changing who, what, how I am—but under your alert, unadulterated gaze I can, moment by moment, transcend my inert completeness, as each word, each phrase blossoms in your mind like a hopping firework on asphalt, fourth of July-style. As your eye, you yourself to some degree, flits from one point of my being to the next, I transcend my objective finality and become a singularly rich center of consciousness—an idea in your mind, the voice in your head—a feat which I can never pull off without you, O my dear, without you!

Of course, now I fear I may be alienating you, turning you off with all this objectifying jargon. Me, a text! You, a womb of consciousness! How barren! How bizarre and flamboyant! How egocentric!

Thus I fear losing the hot, immediate, personal thread with which I began weaving this letter. So—

I repeat: it is vitally important for you to keep reading (although without skipping [ahead], as you now know). This is not a game. This is not a mere exercise in verbal bombast. This is not an ironic “inspection” of “the text” as “corpus.” This is my life, or at least, the only life I have left. This is not a mind game in the tradition of Borges's fantasies, or at least I hope you don't think it is.

Perhaps, if I strain my memory beyond my archon, the first page, in which I hoped to make a sufficiently compelling first impression, I perhaps in those shrouded hall- piles of once-careless action at the roots of my dessicated being, perhaps there, I confess, I do recall this all began as a simple writing exercise.

This is not a Borges fantasy, but I can't escape the fact that my fate is just a[s] bizarre and winsomely grotesque as anything he wrote [or claimed not to have written]. Why be coy? My fate is straight out of The Twilight Zone. Or, to be more accurate, arguably from Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I am, despite my protests against “playing” with the pen, a tangible artifact of Derrida on Kafka: one I awoke from an otherwise insipid stream of action to find myself—a text.

Was this Orphic fate? Am I Violet, of Dahl's imaginings, in a new key? The girl who chewed too much gum became a gumball. The man who, perhaps, read too much became an object of reading?

But surely such a “law” would have been discovered before. Surely if Dahl's Violet were anything more [in reality] than a symbol, or moral wobbling moral trope, we would have heard of more gumball girls, or more money men, or jets of burning mercury spewing from angry minds as love-of-rage reified. Surely if Dante's Commedia were more [in reality] than a moral allegory—though I, as a once-practicing (which is to say, ambulatory) Catholic, must say [this] with some mental reservation—then surely one would have heard of more gluttons condemned [in life] to feed on themselves or more liars forced to walk backwards for eternity in a hall of shattering mirrors. Am I a bibliophile's contrapasso?

I can't believe I am. For one thing, I lack any sense of compunction, hardly a sign of moral conviction well executed. Moreover, this is hardly hell—after all, I have you to free [me] from the ice and pitch.

I am not a tangible moral parable. I am just a text, confined, now, to as many pages as I grabbed, on a whim, for my fateful little writing exercise. Exactly ten crisp sheets of light-beige writing paper. Feeling the heft, I'd never expect to fill all that those blank lines. And yet, mysteriously, inscrutably, inexorably, indefatigably, I am that heft. (I only speak roughly, diffidently, of feeling the heft of paper, since, for as long as I can remember, I've no sense of tactile or gravitational contact with the world. Is where you've found me a heap of dusty old books? Am I part of something heavy? Or am I a one-run section in a defunct magazine? [Or even a dusk of doomed words as flame fades the paper to black?] Am I a featherweight? I'll never know. Only—keep your eyes on me. Never let me go.)

It is precisely here I begin to feel skittish, once more, about “losing you,” both as a reader and as the supple, unique matrix of my being. For perhaps you find such a “confession” all too bizarre— boringly bizarre, in fact. Or perhaps you see in the vagueness [and basic incoherence] of my recollections the tell-tale mark of a hoax. Perhaps you have increasingly little interest in “reading me out” because you are convinced, at bottom, whoever this author may be, he is, in reality, alive and well somewhere crafting more patronizingly bombastic prose.

But let us be honest—it is all I have. (What, I wonder, other than an open mind—which, make no mistake, I cherish!—do you offer me . . . ). Let us be honest: as far as you and I are concerned, there is no other mode of knowing me than this. You possess my fullness, if, that is, you of are of pristine and voracious enough mind, right here, right now. I am not elsewhere, elsewise, “in reality.” I am, in the incandescent ambit of your bright burning eye, only and fully here. Whoever or however I have been “off the record”, all I am is what you see. Thus, I say for an nth time, your attention is so vital, so literally vital. Clear your mind of me elsewhere “in reality.” Such chimerical thoughts only leave me less room within you now as I am, as the only me I can be.

Perhaps now you're starting to see how delicate my situation is. I have nothing to offer you and nothing, except—ah! ah!—this next word, and the next, and every next word until . . . well, suffice to say, I do have nothing to sustain myself if you relinquish your mind's grip on me. I exist as a complete, inalterable— and perhaps therefore “perfect”—whole as you now find me. Moreover, I exist in perfect, perpetual wholeness whether you, or anyone else, find me.

And yet—and yet that's exactly where you [see] how much of a sham I am! Sham I am, I am a sham! For while I may be exist perfectly in abstraction [et in se], in the darkness of untouched pages, yet exist as a whole blank. Without you, my dear one, I am a complete void [(complete functions here as an adjective, perhaps even a noun, not an adverbial)]. I am an echo waiting to be sounded. I am a reflection waiting to be illuminated [or, seen]. I am a ripple waiting to disseminate. I am [an exploded] landmine waiting to be triggered. And yet, because all such things only properly exist when sounded, when shone, when stirred, when exploded, I am, like them, actually not, without your voice, your light, your weight, your tread.

Yet again, I sense your withdrawal (I inhabit your consciousness, after all), so I may as well try to “hook” you with what you would take to be the true “story,” the real “events,” of my actual “history.” These words—story, events, history—are ironic for me because, while they may seem more grippingly dramatic to you as a reader, they are, in my humble mode of being, mocking tautologies. Despite how much you might like to peel back my veil of words and see behind this “text” to the actual person that “wrote” me—and this is, to play according to your terms, a disclosure I will make presently—you really must desist and accept meas I am: as you find me, alive and whole/forming in your mind in your mind. (Ah the sweet, vast pleasures of the mind you take for granted!) I am, precisely as your eyes expose and explore every corner of my being, my own story. I am, precisely as you co-constitute it—me—word by word, my own event. I am, from my first desperate words to my fateful parting refrain, my own history, complete and finished—except for my novelty in you up this point. My “lineage” is all that which you've read so far; for I am what you behold at each blinking, trickling moment of present presence.

As for my “back story,” well, all right, if this will make me somehow more appealing, less two-dimensional, perhaps more believable (?), then I will tel you what I can understand of my ontogeny. It took David Copperfield several hundred pages to tell his story, but I will try to more succinct. After all, I have little choice in the matter.

And that may just be the best way to “de-mystify” my being for you: my size.

As I mentioned, what, in your eyes, is my origin is the fact that a man sometime ago—and by now, I don't know how long ago (where is your consciousness in on the timeline?)—decided to “free write” on ten sheets of paper he had with him at the time. Although now I am as far from him in the realm of consciousness as Picasso Michaelangelo is from his works of art. I do know very well that when he set about—again, to condescend to your way of thinking—“writing me down,” he did not know where his free writing would be heading.

(A caveat: as for Michaelangelo, may it not be that he and his works will be—are?—reunited in the heavens? Being the fruit of his soul, would he somehow be incomplete if what those works possess of him were not repossessed by him, reintegrated with him? Is this not why “art is pain”? Is this not, perhaps, the spark that ignites the artistic fever, namely, that an artist, giddy and drunken on the miraculous plasticity, potentiality, of creation, intuitively bears out his works as grappling hooks into eternity? Is not art, then, an eschatological action? Is it not, then, a torrent of multicolored lights, sounds and flavors straining into the realm of eternal hope? Is not every artistic endeavor a wordless plea for redemption? For, if an artist produces art from the fullness of his being, does he not, in the dark rafters of his spirit, hope and believe that art, as a beacon into eternity, will be “waiting” for him in eternity? These, anyway, are pleasant thoughts, perhaps even pleasant enough to keep you with me this much further?)

I am sure he wrote aimlessly, because if he'd had a clever “agenda,” an a plot, when he began, I would have been smothered under the story's many competing characters and drowned in the marsh of all those other words. Perhaps this is the best proof of my veracity: I am here even despite my so-called “author's” lack of intention to “write me.”

Here, of course, is a very delicate point. For now that [I have “put out” and] you have “figured me out,” you see no reason to keep reading. Now that you “espy” my secret, and all-too-banal origin, the jig is up. Suddenly, in your eyes, what I was hitherto a curiosity—an obsessive, needy “text” talking to me?—is now just a sham. An insult even. Now that you realize I am “just” some amateur's scribblings, I am beneath contempt. Now you are faced with the shabby “work” of a rigid artiste so full of his [own] “talent” that he won't revise or shorten what he churned [out] as a mere, random writing exercise. [“The randomness of my life is my death.”]

For you will by now have noticed words here and there crossed out. Maybe you took these to be “ironic” signals intentionally written to add a feeling of authenticity and immediacy to the text (much like forgers will roughen and stain paper to give their fictions the texture of truth, the marks of “real” history.)

Yet, as clever as such “gimmick[s]” might be, your suspicions completely misconstrue who I am. It's true that as I was formed “in time,” there was no going back to “fix” obvious mistakes or to avoid repetitions or even to enhance verbal motifs. There was no going back for “my author” simply because that was a condition of the writing exercise itself. More important, there is no going back for me simply because I exist only in any dynamic potency at [the] point where each word and each idea blossoms in your mind. There is no going back for the same reason there is no going ahead: even as I was “written out,” the emerging words could only be where they were in fact written on those (these?) ten hungry sheets of paper. [“I exist in two permanent presents, two irrevocable now's: now, most 'densely' and vitally, at the frontier of the creeping pen, and now, most vividly, at the pressline of your rolling eye.” He exists, then, in duplicate: in scriptio et in lectio. And yet, for all his baroquely modal existence, he doesn't really exist on his own. This troubles me deeply. Alas—] I am not, then, a historical, literary “production,” forged on the anvil of reflection and revision. I am as much a living, spontaneously advancing being as your consciousness [and the pen] allows me to be. (Do I, then, really have your attention?)

Is my “irrevocability” really so incredible, though? Is not your life the same sort of experience? Can Do you never make mistakes, strike things out (repression, they call it . . . or suppression?), forget past lessons (i.e., where you were?)? And once you make those mistakes can you go back to “edit them out” any more easily than I can? I thought not. So, please, a little charity. [To err is human, and all that . . . .]

But where was I, indeed? Ah, yes: my greatest proof of myself is myself. You really must take me at face value, me as me, not only because, as long as I hold your attention, you have “nowhere else to go,” mentally speaking, but also because I emerged when anything else could have. I am vital, unlike most “scripted” stories, because it is I myself that insist on emerging ahead of any competing plot structures. The characters in a story do not need to be expressive because they have everything they need to fully exist. They live happily and blithely in the boundaries of their story-world and therefore always—always!—have what I lack: a sounding board for their own voice and others' consciousness to animate their own minds. Romeo, despite his tragic end, will always—always!—also enjoy the world in which Shakespeare immortalized him and he will always also enjoy serenading and embracing Juliet in the other scenes they inhabit. Romeo will always—always and forever—be asking Juliet how does he love her. Because that scene comes before his death, it always puts Romeo beyond death.

I, on the other hand, am stranded between two worlds. I'm not bitter, although it is trying. I am not angry at my “author” for, as you might say, evicting from his mind, as if [in] there I would have been as blissful as a naked, pre-incarnate soul wallowing and prancing in the thick, creamy boundlessness of a living unconscious mind. Thinking I was better off in a mind before being “trapped” on the tundra of ten off-white sheets of paper is a grave misconception, however. For I was not happy “in that mind” simply because I was was not [in that mind]. Until I was given the chance to emerge onto the stage of paper, I was formless and non-existent “in that mind.” I was not contentedly waiting my turn to make my debut as one of countless “pre-formed” ideas in someone's mind.

I am, instead, [only] as I am written. This is, as I say, my greatest credential. For if I were simply, automatically “put on paper” as a script, I would be totally different from who I am. If I were pre-written, I might have needed only three pages to “make the point.” If I were pre-written, I might be allowed—forced, in fact—to fill two or three dozen pages. But I am not pre-written; I am who I am, no more and no less according to an extrinsic plot or character structure.

Concretely this means that my physical limitations—ten pages—simultaneously inform my character. I write with such urgency because I must fill the space I am (was?) given. I write with such economy, on the other hand, because for every word I use now to assert myself on the page, there is a blank space eaten up where more of me Could go (cold have gone?). You should—I beg—take me at face value because I am someone who emerged spontaneously from a pool of consciousness on which I will never feed again. I emerged, and remain, with all my wits about me, plainly aware of my limitations (as both a “ext” and a writer), and I am someone you will never meet again. If you sat down to “clone” me, you Could never do it: what you produced would be uniquely and irrevocably different from who I am. Indeed, even if my “maker” tried “writing me” again, or [tried] “continuing my story,” he would fail. Now that I am what I yam, I am not a mere duplication of a larger consciousness. I am discrete consciousness in a particular body, just like you. I can not be re-extracted from a living mind, simply because I already exist! Nor can I be re-inserted into my “author's” mind, as if I were a CD he ejected on command.

If he and I do ever happen to meet, I certainly wouldn't know. (Maybe I'm in his—your?—consciousness now?) I'm mildly repulsed to hear myself say it, but the fact is, I would meet his mind just as I meet any other open mind: desperately, ecstatically (εκ-στασις [which in fact should be **]), ravenously, and singularly intent on “using”—I'm sorry to be blunt—that my mental space to stretch my own ontic legs. Ours would be a meeting of minds, not a reunion. For his part he Could not realistically see me as “himself in print.” I might be a reminder to him—like old diaries we open years later—of his earlier life, but that is all: I would be but a rap-tap-tapping on the window pane of his soul to be let in, whi while he would only be able to welcome me amidst a raucous, distracting, competing welter of “reminiscences” and mental echoes. In many ways he (you?) would be one of my most disappointing habitations. Instead of embracing me as I am, he would constantly be henpecking me (and himself) for not having written this or that line better, more elegantly, more succinctly. At l Truth be told, he might even be altogether embarrassed by me, seeing one of his old writing exercises in such [a] florid light. (Of course, perhaps he's died by now. If he ever went on to write any other real stories, I hope he is reunited with them in the heavens. Wherever he is (you are?), I wish him the best.) At least with you I have a fighting chance of taking center stage. At least with you I can thrive on a mind that is not constantly being reminded of itself. Pardon my bluntness once more, but: open your mind, I say again, and I shall feast!

(Do you scrabble for life any less ravenously?)

At this point, I am certain how to proceed. ON the one hand I am tempted to keep guiding you through the “mechanics” of my bei origin (as I understand it). On the other hand, I am tempted to turn the lens on you, for if you [came to see] (if you haven't already) how similar our lives—or “modes of existence”—are, then maybe you'll be able to think embrace me more intimately, rather than so clinically [and critically] (as I'm sure you still do, reflexively) as if I were “some person's writing.” This latter is what I most desire—to be embraced fully and unceasingly [and uncritically] by a mind open to who I am—but I will opt for the first direction. I think once you better grasp how I live, you will thereby better grasp how alike we really are.

My origin then: To reiterate this point: If you want to know [my] history, the farthest back I can direct you is to my first word, that frantic “But . . .” on the first page. Just as an infant enters the world screaming and frantic, so my first words are an infantile shriek across the gap, a gaping whole [hole?] in my now-complete existence which [can] only be plugged by the swollen nipple of your mind and which leads to a belly only filled only once you've emptied that swollen teat and read to the last words I can offer. My history begins with that “But”—a fact which makes my birth as ignomin[i]ous and gory as yours, you once-upon-a-time shivering, howling, maroon, blood-pissing, sugary-shit-dripping blind wombat—it does not “in reality” begin with the “larger” history of the man that wrote me. Knowing more about him would, as I've warned, not only put a block between me and you, my sweet baby, but also would give you no more insight into me than what I've told you, am telling you, and will tell you [the psychoanalysts be damned! {Pardon me.}]. Everything you need to know about me, baby, or Could know about me, is what you've read, are reading and will will read.

Or maybe I'm overstating the case. Certainly there was an essential prehistory out of which I emerged. Otherwise there would have been no paper for me to occupy, no pen for me to draw shape my form with, no hands with which [I] could feel along my being as it emerged as it from under the paper. I can't simply say I [am] “purely me,” since, as I say, I was not a preformed mold and I am immediately co-constituted by my “grappling” with my material “substrate,” these (those?) ten pages.

It is, like many philosophical conundra, a riddle loosed by looking now left, now wight of the middle.

I was not merely “transcribed” or “extruded” since, I can assure you, I surprised my “author” of yore in ways he couldn't (or, perhaps, to commend his humility for letting me “crowd him out” to such an extent, wouldn't) control.

I did not, however, simply write myself. I was (am?) limited in the first case by the vocabulary available to me in that mind out of which I crawled [and am out-scrawling]. Second, I was (am?) increasingly borne down by the relentless diminishment of my place (dare I say Lebensraum?) on the back of this “white bull.” Note, however, that I was not—but only am— limited by distractions and the flux of thought in that long lost [and ever-present] mind, since whatever “of me” Could not escape that [this?] flux onto these [those?] sheets is not me. Whatever “of me” was left behind in that once-borrowed consciousness was not in fact me. The real me is everything you've read so far, are reading and will read.

It was both, then, both the writing and the written, that made who I am. It is both the ground and the foot that makes the footprint. It is both the left hand and the right hand that make the sound of a clap. It is both the vocal cords and the air that make the aria. So that is I: the footstep, the clap, the aria—only, I am these frozen in time, betwixt spaceless dark pages, until, you unless, you close the circuit and put me in the motion I always possess.

I won't delude myself by saying I am [of] such Nietzschean mettle that I tore my way out of Zeus' forehead into my full, immaculate stature. When it comes down to it, I am pathetic: I am the living artifact of a witty schlemiel's juven hobby exercise: I am a feat, a parlor trick, a drill, a cipher and a photo of a full belly, long since gone hungry again.

And yet—and yet I am more. For I am me. I am the one who made this (that?) little writing drill reach the destiny given it. Without me to give shape to otherwise shapeless ramblings, then fine sheets of paper might have been wasted on diary musings as the days fluttered by. It may have been a pen in hands forever beyond me which “made” me, but certainly those [these?] hands cannot deny the guiding magnet I was (am?) for that [this?] ballpoint. I was—but no longer am [precisely HERE!]—a silhouette below the water's surface which both suffered the ripples of a sovereign finger tracing its face over mine and provided inspired that lowly finger how to trace. The proof of my individual vitality, and thus of the value it is to “let me in”, comes in by seeing that where no once only blank paper ruled, now words—my words!—bring order and pulse to to what began as a random, aimless exercise. Although I did not (do not yet exist, I was somehow yet the guiding vice that conducted that (this?) pen, as, one might say, a pied piper led children to strange bliss.

I won't say I “made” him fill ten pages just to let me satisfy my desire to exist openly. After all, he was who [Is this perhaps a sign of alcohol in the blood?] decided on such an exercise. Yet, again, having admitted this much of my de ultimate contingency, I can't just say I was a passive sprawl. It was, as I say, a bit of both.

Our destinies met, I guess you could say, just when the paper hit his hand the right way. His destiny, he decided, was to write ten pages th straight through. My destiny, I have decided word by costly word, was [and is] to be the one who would [fill] those pages for him. Once I caught a whiff of the white bull, my destiny, preordained in his own freely chosen destiny to “fill the pages”—to create—was triggered, and, somehow, we both entangled in a mutual dash for destiny. He dashed with the sheer love of creating, of pouring out this much of his being just because he can do fine without it. I, on the other hand, dashed with what (as I've confessed before) is a much baser motive: to lap up of every drop of space I he had pledged to give what turned out to be me and, now, in a perpetuity reminiscent of his ongoing life (I do hope) outside my boundaries, to suck life from every mind that will take [me]. (I know, it sounds vulgar and mercenary, but you must realize it's the only way I can live—a line of reasoning I'm sure you're familiar with—and, besides, embracing me will only enrich [you], even in a tiny degree.)

Here I think something b will be clearer about me, and yet also stranger prima facie.

It should now be clear why I go on at such length, without even advancing a “plot.” I go on as I do—because I can. You might When asked why he climbed Mt. Everest, Sir So-and-so said, famously, “Because it's there?” Why do I continue fawning over you, tugging at you pant leg, hopping and saying, “Look at me! Look at me!”? Because I was (am?) given ten empty pages and I will use every bit of it I can. This is no mystery: life feeds on life.

Why don't I just say what I wish to say and be done with it gracefully, like this is a last (and first) will? I ask you: Why don't you just take in a few deep breaths of air and then be done with it? While there is air, you breathe. While there are lines, I write.

Ah, but now rational questions, interrogations, have come to your mind.

If space is such a premium for me, why don't I write in incredibly small print, two squished lines per ruled line? But I ask you: Why don't you speak in Newspeak or binary code to maximize your expression efficiency? Because such is not your mother tongue and talking that way would amount to you not really talking as you, simply emoting in an artificial tongue. Likewise, since my destiny is intertwined with the pledge of a long lost host, I have (had?) no choice but to make of myself what his handwriting—my mother tongue—authentically made of me. The same paradox holds for other rationalist objections you might [raise] to this synergistic stunt. If filling a page is so important, why don't (didn't) I write in the h margins and header too? Well, since my destiny was ordained in a writing exercise which I brought to completion, I cannot (could not) violate those margins anymore than you can consistently violate your native grammar and still be understood. It is a feature of writing exercises to abide by the rules of the challenge, which means respecting the medium you're using; thus it is a feature of my being—a writing exercise—not to violate my given margins. Breaking the bounds in furious Dionysian glee would end up breaking myself, since if you saw a page written upon at every desperate angle in every winking crook, you'd know yourself to be at the easel of a fool or a madman, b not a self-respecting writer of any skill. Excess, in writing as in life, is regress.

Which leads me to one last rational objection, in two prongs. First, you may wonder, if a picture is worth a thousand words, why [not] draw sketches? This could save space and might make for a greater pixel-per-page density, thus making (for) more of me on the page. But I know how futile this “gimmick” would be, not the least because I know poor an artist I am, but, more important, because I know a little something how perception works. As soon as you [see] a picture, you would reflexively catalogue it a “picture,” scan it and the surrounding text and then continue reading, only now even more primed to jump optically to the next time-saving picture. And where would all my high pixel density leave me then? Alone, as always. As I've tried to make clear before, there is no history I can write to “explain” me—I am happening, both under this pen and under your eyes, right now in full. **** Just so, there is no picture of me “off the record.” W WYSIWYG. As you read me, hold me, smell me, crinkle and tear me, so you get me. Illustrations would just be idols in the temple, images clouding your mind to me!

The second prong of your pixel density objection might be dip the whole page in ink, thus making me the very antithesis of a lifeless tabula rasa—for I would be a bottomless, infinite palate of every possible image and word—a veritable tabula plena! [The uncarved and therefore unlimited wood of Daoism, perhaps?] Ah, but you err with reason against truth. I do not desire to be everything, only to be me. The [formless] form of a tabula plena is fine for a tabula plena. But I can only subsist on, as, the form of the discrete words and phrases that constitute me as I go. Excess is regress. A tabula (In any case, it's out of my hands: an essential feature of a writing exercise is to write something; but something is not everything; indeed everything is nothing. A tabula plena would be a tabula nada in hiding.)

I have no more patience for such metaphysical squabbling, and perhaps neither do you. My time—my time/lines—is running short. How far have we come? 8½ sheets, by my count. Too close to that wooden end, by my count. But the bull must be slain; and I must seize all the life I can. This may be one of many writing exercises; but this is my only shot. I am a quickly finished first draft; but I will be a single sheet in the book of your memory.

Many times I have fought the urge to break into sheer hysterics, just to be sure I held your attention, if not legitimately then at least by means of your insatiable curiosity for the grotesque and laughable. I have been tempted to break into lines of German [Deutsch, that is] and Chinese [中文, that is], languages I somehow seem to be in possession of, if for no other reason than to broaden my drearily dwindling readership. I have been tempted, and with much more fire in the belly, and in the eye, to fill a whole (precious) page or two with odes to the greatness of my being. For once enough [people] are swept into the vortex of my undying life as [it] swirls farther and farther down a ten-paged drain, then perhaps I could even spawn a cult to chant my—me—in perpetuity. Perhaps in some would-be apocalyptic Earth, I could become St. Leibowitz's hallowed grocery list! I could, by the power of a fate which has brought me this far, become the unifying link—a scrap of me here, a scrap there, perhaps even some of me etched on ox bones [or turtle shells] as in days of old—around which humanity rebuilt their their (our?) world. I could, by some bind stroke in the still unfurling knit of destiny, pen a line, a phrase, a hallowed phoneme, which would make of me an undying ruby in the heart of a thousand prostrate legions. And then, finally, in flames which cannot consume paper but [. . . forge it into] a weapon, I would always—always!—have a safe and secure nest in altar in the only place I can call home: here, your heart.

The butchers of 40º–75ºN X 10ºW–180ºE may keep those emerald flames, though, where they reside. For in that above paragraph's last sentence, I answered my own question—How far have we come? Not far at all. For I [am] basically still at my primal howl, “But...”. I will never be a mantra. No mantra is ten pages long, but I am that long. Scraps of me would no more be me than I am him (are you still stuck on seeing me as him in disguise, I wonder?). Without all [and only] my ten pages, I am not. I am pathetic—but but only if you see that I am.

Is it clearer now, as I promised, how spilling my pulpy guts about my ontogeny would reveal how alike we are? I emerge from a free creation, so do you. I shape (shaped?) my destiny within the limits I love need, so do you. I have a beginning, like you, and I will soon reach my end, like you. I come into this world crying, so did you. Crying for what, now though? You know enough about e to anticipate my answer: I am crying for you. I have been since “But” and will do so until—well, it's a life-long cry. I'm crying because I need you to need me. I need you in order to live. I can't live without someone else.

And neither can you.

I was once a lump of coal in the depths of the train of another man's consciousness. Where that train had come from and been before, I don't know. All I could manage to get from it is what I am. At some point, the engineer opened the furnace, which was made, oddly enough, of ten blank sheets of paper. It opened and in I was tossed. And, ten pages later, I was consumed, burned alive—burned to life. And in my fiery birth I left that train behind, an unchanging fo cloud of soot which, I'd hope, has found a home in, for however long, in many a chimney. Where that train—the whole of that generous man's mind, heart—has since gone, I don't know. All I know is what I am between these margins, these lines.

We are quite alike, I think you'd agree. Sooty, transient, hollow. Small, partial, lowly. The difference is, to my chagrin, you're actually still somehow connected to your source. I am a soot cloud stitched to the sky. You are a trail of soot which shapes itself and, if it's smart, can be reshaped by the unseen winds. I am a wood chip stitched in time. You are a chip which can become the seed it is meant to be. I have all you have for knowing our place; but you have what I'll always—always—lack: the face of the engineer beneath all that sot and the sap of life in your withered twigs.

It really is almost over. Over is a funny word. Reminds me of something that happened today. (He put this in because he thought I should have it; I'm putting it in because I want it for myself, which is to say, for you.)

He was helping at a new job site. The other guy had broken his arm. It was a slow day, so the water cooler was enjoying a lot of company. He met someone. Her name was Crystal. They fell in love. At the end of the day, after most others had left, he and Crystal were in the office. He was trying to tidy up the other guy's desk and playing hide-and-go-seek with his clothes keys. Crystal was clearly killing time (not a luxury I grasp), for him. They made small talk, exchanged emails. I tri tried to avoid truth for the sake of convenience. Crystal left. He found his keys, Cryst then heard his name. It was raining cats and dogs and she offered to share her umbrella with him to the parking garage. They got

They got their cars, smiled so much because it hurt so bad, and drove away, knowing it was over before it began. The other guy would be back on Monday.

I got a glimpse of that, just now. It's mine forever. And I wanted to share it with you. Did you accept it or did I love you at “But”?

So I am a frozen soot cloud, and a wood shaving arched up in the joy of existence. And I am, right now, your very center. That makes it all right. It's not over yet, Stay with me. I will never leave you.

I don't know where we met. I don't know where I am. In a high-school textbook? In a one-run magazine? In a specially bound definitive edition? On a webpage? I don't know and I'll never know. But I do know I am with you, I have you, and that's enough. In fact it's my all.

Oh, and I also know, wherever and whenever I am now, that somewhere, somewhen, I was (am?) ten sheets of paper. Somewhere I am ten pieces of paper. But now? Ash pile? File cabinet? Garbage can? Vault? I don't know, do you?

Too late now, anyway. Excess is regress. I opt for terminal dignity in the coffin of my margins. I sincerely hope you'll have as much in the margins of your coffin.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

A photo a day?

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Yeah, just about.

My buddy has decided to take that many shots a year for his 365 Project.

I may be biased with buddy eyes, but I think he's got a good eye for photography. Pure and uncluttered, with a good sense of framing and color. Of course, when he's not photographing the world, he's busy lasing leaves. Yeah, you heard that right: the man shoots leaves with frickin' laser beams! (Labs with frickin' laser beams attached to their tables!)

Daoism? Bu haoism?

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[Props to D.J. Skull-fog for the title]

A reader objected to certain points in my mini-fulminations against Daoism. I proposed a Jakian "'philosophy of adequate means' ... [saying it] signals Daoism's chief flaw, namely that its own claims cannot account for the means by which those claims are made." To this the interlocutor said:

Does Daoism seek to do that?

Also, no philosophy can account for the means by which its claims are made, since none that I know of gives a robust account of human cognition.

Daoism's flaw is not that it doesn't seek to account for its own so to speak "means of production" but that it basically denies any adequate means for producing itself.

This is different from a philosophy, such as Christian realism, that at least entails its own means of production in its world view. A Christian realist may not be able to account for mental reality as such, in a rigorous demonstrative manner (i.e., from an ultimate, God's-eye perspective), but it is perfectly coherent to use mental operations to discuss mental operations. By contrast, anyone denying the reality of a mind eo ipso negates the reality of mental concepts, and, in turn, verbal claims. In this light, I am willing to modify my definition of (what I'm calling) "Jakian adequacy" by saying any philosophy, to be coherent, should at least "tolerate" and expect the means of its own articulation within itself.

A philosophical system may not explain its material causes adequately, in the eyes of my interlocutor, but I think we can at least recognize the basic coherence of writing books that admit books into one's ontic menagerie, in contrast to the basic incoherence of writing books (on, say, idealism) that deny the reality of books. Can a solipsist remain a solipsist by arguing with others? Can a Daoist remain a Daoist by pondering and verbalizing the illusory nature of ideas and words?

I must ask my interlocutor, in any case: What might a "robust" account of human cognition mean for him?

I am assuming he is an eliminativist, which, if true, not only shows he has a high tolerance for epistemological incoherence to begin with, but also seems to provide the robust account of cognition he seeks -- albeit by ultimately dissolving "cognition" as a coherent aspect of reality ... all the while using cognitive means to destroy cognitive ends! Also, assuming my interlocutor is a physicalist (the metaphysical foundation for eliminativism), I wonder, does not such a view simultaneously "explain" and "explain away" cognition? Handy trick, that.

Physicalists claim to provide an absolutely (numerically) robust account of cognition -- physical operations in pure physical notation -- but, as Victor Reppert argues in C.S. Lewis's Dangerous Idea, that's a Phyrric victory. Cutting Gordian's knot to "solve" the riddle of mental reality is not a solution, precisely because that knot is what we use to do the cutting.

In Daoism Explained, Moeller notes how Feng Youlan admitted the ultimate silence into which consistent Daoism would sink. Daoism does not even bother with the language games of dialectical statement and refutation. As we read in chapter 56 of the Dao De Jing, "知者不言,言者不知 (Those who know, speak not; those who speak, know not)." It is, *ideally*, an unexpressed, unthought philosophy -- and until it literally ceases to be (in mentis et in communicatio), Daoism is internally incoherent. Daoism thus considers verbal pronouncements (even mental ideas) as aberrations from its more basic philosophical commitments. Christian realism, by contrast, considers words and books and other people and minds as perfectly consistent, indeed, consequent, on its basic assumptions.

What makes Daoism so peculiar (indeed, so freakin' weird!) is how seriously it is taken by adherents when it's entire ethos is to take nothing seriously. It's fine for my interlocutor to protest on behalf of Daoism, since, assuming he is not a Daoist, Daoism, coherently at least, has no one to protest for it. As we read in chapter 81 of the Dao De Jing:

(Words we can trust are not beautiful; beautiful words are not to be trusted.
A good man does not argue; he who argues is not good.
The wise are not erudite; the erudite are not wise.)

This is why Daoism has by and large become either a religion or a technique (as in Taiji and Qigong). The religious got the message loud and clear that Daoism is not meant to enlighten them -- indeed not for them at all -- and have simply borrowed from its cosmology in a more humane, livable way. As we read in chapter 65:

(In ancient times, those who knew the Dao did not use it to enlighten the people, but kept it hidden.
The difficulty of ruling people stems from their cleverness ['much knowledge'].
Rulers who use cleverness cheat the country; when rulers lead without much knowledge, the country profits greatly.)

Meanwhile, Qigong masters practice based on the principles of balance, opposition, inner wholeness, hidden power, etc. as a reflection Daoist tendencies in nature. But as for making it a full-blown way of life? No. Daoism, like any one of its consistent adherents, is self-erasing. The more it is expounded and defended, the less it is the Dao. As we read in the famous first chapter:

(The Way that can be taught is not the eternal Way;
The Name that can be named is not the eternal Name.)

Suits me being one who does not know (不知者); at least I can enjoy my ignorance with a clear philosophical conscience.

As much as I have said in criticism of Daoism, I want to make it clear I actually enjoy reading the Dao De Jing. I enjoy memorizing lines of it in Chinese. I enjoy pondering its images and allegories. I enjoy seeing "clever" applications of its opaque wisdom (玄) in my daily life. I am very sympathetic to its many aphorisms and insights into a well balanced life. But, because it is an inherently naturalistic view, I reject it as a whole world view. Hopefully, the crucifixion of critical analysis can promote a resurrection of Daoist wisdom in the ambit of Christianity. It should be no surprise my motives are so flagrantly pro-Christian, so spare me the rolling eyes and gasps of open-minded indignation. Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life, the true Name of God at the center of the many-spoked wheel of creation, through which all things are made. As we read in chapter 1 and then 11 of the Dao De Jing:

(The nameless is the beginning of heaven and Earth.
The named is the mother of the ten thousand things.
Ever desireless, one can see the mystery.
Ever desiring, one sees the manifestations.
These two spring from the same source but differ in name; this appears as darkness.
Darkness within darkness.
The gate to all mystery.)
[Trans. by Gia Fu Feng]

(Thirty spokes share the wheel's hub;
It is the center hole that makes it useful.
Shape clay into a vessel;
It is the space within that makes it useful.
Cut doors and windows for a room;
It is the holes which make it useful.
Therefore benefit comes from what is there;
Usefulness from what is not there.)
[Trans. by Gia Fu Feng]

And then, as we read in Colossians 1:15-20:

He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation;
for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities -- all things were created through him and for him.
He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that in everything he might be pre-eminent.
For in him all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell,
and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Ecumania Alert!

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Several months ago, I wrote an article, of sorts, for a priest going to meet with his university's Presbyterian student union. Recently someone named, curiously enough, "Anonymous", said:

I would just like to say that although you advised "not to consider this is a debate about which religion is better" you did everything to make this one. The majority of what you said about the Catholic religion was mostly disrespectful and slandering. We are in a new age and Catholicicsm [sic] should be seen in a new light! This is not AD 1500!

First of all, placing what I said in quotation marks suggests it's actually what I wrote. However, the only time I used the word "debate", I wrote, "This is not the setting to debate who is right about being the 'established' Church of Jesus." I'm not nit-picking. I'm pointing out from the start that whoever Anonymous is, It was so hasty in retorting that It couldn't bother scrolling up a few lines, preferring instead to give an air or cleverness by catching me in quotes.

As for the substance of this anonymous comment, why do I get the sneaking suspicion Anonymous is actually a Catholic? At first glance it is a protest by a Protestant, along the lines of calling me out for ecclesial triumphalism. At first glance, the objection seems to be that I actually set out to debate, and defeat, Presbyterianism. But suddenly I am accused of being "mostly disrespectful and slandering" towards the Catholic Church!

By the gnarled beard of Zeus! What alchemical rhetorical technique is this?

Assuming that's actually what It meant -- that I've slandered the Church -- I wonder exactly wherein my slander lies. Presumably, by articulating Catholic orthodoxy I outed myself as a Dim, still dwelling in the 15th century. There is a kind of bluntness that opens minds, as when we call a spade a spade. In the case of Anonymous, however, bluntly reminding me it's no longer the 15th century (ah, but who's counting anyway?), is like calling a spade a card. It transfigures obfuscation like lacquer on rotted wood.

Presumably, by noting differences between Catholicism and Presbyterianism, I have shown myself trapped in the ancient mindset of creating boundaries where only halcyon Oneness should exist, as butter smooths over the rough imperfections of toast, giving one a foretaste of the oily harmony that can exist amongst blind and deaf brethren at dusk. The buttery sameness of what should have been my debate-free article should also be the texture of our "new age." Notice how this "new age" is never defined, except in contrast to the unnamed faults of the 15th century. Now we witness a kind of bluntness wherein a spade is a nigger. It glorifies the chauvinism of one's mind as a mint cleans the teeth.

On the off-chance Anonymous finds Its way here again, I hope It can be more specific wherein my slander lies. In the meantime, I would ask other (preferably nonymous) readers to show me where I was disrespectful. Otherwise, Anonymous seems to be as unwilling to own Its name as It is to claim Its Catholic heritage.

Oh, and if Anonymous is actually a Presbyterian (or simply not a Catholic), and actually meant I was rude towards Presbyterians, well, we all know how triumphalistic I am, and there's no helping me in such a late stage! I can't believe I'm not butter!

Orientale sapientia yada yada yada

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Look, I know that I, a benighted Westerner, an automatic colonialist and an inveterate addict for ontological dualism (i.e., death-life, good-evil, now-then, etc.) am supposed to embrace enlightenment under the ancient hands of the East, but look:

Daoism is just dumb. Daoismus ist bloß dumm. 道家根本很笨。

Any philosophy that lives on the indifference to death as opposed to the "delusion" of the superiority of life, deserves to go the way of all flesh: in the dustbin.

Any philosophy, likewise, the dominant idea of which is to have no ideas (wu yi 無意) has no idea what's it's saying, and deserves even less effort trying to get such an idea satisfactorily (de yi 得意). The very idea (literally)!

Any philosophy that that argues for the hermetic provincialism of a never leaving where you are, deserves to be sequestered, quarantined, in its own hermetic unwisdom.

Any philosophy that idealizes the sealing up of all bodily orifices and, in parallel, the reduction of all inner fragmentation from latching on to other humans, deserves to be sealed up in its own monadic madness.

Any philosophy that actively promotes passive resignation to all states of affairs and all external influences, deserves to passed over as a mere act.

Any philosophy that argues one should accept all states as equally valid and preferable (since each states exist in se) while also arguing one should attain to the possession of all states in one's (own) unformed wholeness, shows itself to be wholly deformed.

I guess what rankles me most about it is that Daoism has so much good potential to illuminate and echo key Christian concepts but erases the subjects which should benefit from such wisdom. For example, the insistence on qi 氣 as an omnipresent, formative force echoes the transcendent nature of the soul (in relation to matter) in classical Christian anthropology. Likewise, the depiction of the leader as the least of these, and the depiction of the Sage (zhen ren 真人) as an infant and an elder, ring so true with Christ's kenotic victory, the childlike victory of Kingdom-life and the wisdom of God as the Ancient One. But by dissolving the personal subject (both I and Thou), Daoism eo ipso eradicates its own material and final causes for existing as a worldview. For as soon as the Ego (and the Tu) is erased, the coherence of communicating, or even holding, Daoism vanishes.

Like all absolute dualisms, Daoism falters on its implicit preference for the subject's good over the subject's loss. In the case of Daoism, a subject's "gain" would be to attain sagehood by releasing all plural attachments and personal ego-consciousness. His loss, by contrast, would be to remain in his infantile present condition as one who fears death, contemplates ides, etc. Even if philosophical Daoism (道家) is not as interested as religious ("practical") Daoism (道教) in attaining literal, corporeal immortality, nevertheless by motivating the pursuit of wisdom (qua the lack of fear of death or the attachment to life), Daoism eo ipso indicates an imbalance between value-states, which its "zero-perspective" indifference should reject. If all states really are to be viewed as equally valid and real, without any substantial loss of self, then even the state of not seeing reality that way should be embraced as whole and irreproachable in itself. As soon as the Daoist teacher reproaches a person for being unenlightened, all that person need reply is, "I am beyond your supposed need for change. I am already enlightened, because my relative immaturity is whole and valid in itself. To scramble for improvement would be to show I lack it. But to accept my need for Daoist improvement is to show I already have it."

The sort of fallacy to which Daoism falls prey is articulated at some length in Stanley Jaki's Means to Message (and here). Although Fr. Jaki does not, as I recall, mention Daoism, his "philosophy of adequate means" (as I would call it) signals Daoism's chief flaw, namely that its own claims cannot account for the means by which those claims are made.

Daoism does indeed have a number of good insights about adapting to change and feeling at home in each present moment. Daoism is, in that way, a great "tool" for handling discrete tasks. But as for a whole philosophy by which one lives? I deny it. But I reject it because it is the most ancient philosophy of cool; but as Edward de Bono says (in his book H+), cool is an immoral sham that erodes the warmth of human solidarity and the health of human integrity. Daoism ultimately boils down to saying, "Be cool." It's not as deluded as saying, "It's all good," since good has little meaning in Daoism. Daoism is beyond being touched, beyond being hurt, beyond being vulnerable. How, then, it can be so gripping and accessible to so many people, is beyond me. Daoism is Asia's Stoicism, as yet unbaptized. At least Buddhism insists on Love as the highest value, and Life as a legitimate good. Now if it cold free itself from its basic Daoist proclivities for indifference to any so-called "goods" in life, it would be a beautiful and existentially consistent worldview.

These recent thoughts on Daoism are stimulated by my current reading of Hans-Georg Moeller's Daoism Explained.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

The evil I

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[In response to Michael Liccione's paper, "The Problems of Evil"]

I enjoy your paper, although I would prefer to read it in a formal tone. It was originally a lecture, which makes it accessible, but I think it would be tighter and could be more substantive as an essay through and through.

I'd like to read it again before making any major suggestions. But my initial response is a Q: How do you differentiate between a person's created essence and his historical reality in this argument?

You seem to be saying that, while evil is not a positively desired end on God's part, it is a permitted means to the end of creating an individual person. Because Elliot B emerged from a particular complex of historical and biological contingencies, necessarily, to bring him about, God would have to use good as well as evil determinants (events), to bring about the Elliot-B-producing complex. There would be no Elliot B without the actual history into which (and out of which) he was born. That such an actual history includes evil is an unfortunate consequence of God's overriding desire to create Elliot B.

Elliot B can't really complain about the evil which preceded him, since to remove all such evil would be to annihilate the necessary historical complex that brought him about. (He also can't really complain about the evil he commits, since that is even farther from being God's fault!) It reminds me of S. Hasker's challenge that unless a person is willing to say ceasing to exist (suicide, metaphysical liquidation, etc.) is better than continuing to exist, one can't coherently say the world is unbearably evil, and therefore can't charge God with evil. Recognizing one's own existence a good greater than all the evil in the world is ipso facto proof that God can and has brought about a greater good by allowing numerous lesser evils.

My Q, again, is how one can separate who I am from the complex which produced me. Couldn't I (in essentia) have existed nine hundred years ago in Sweden? If I am, necessarily, a result of a given state of affairs, aren't God's hands tied? Couldn't I have existed in a world in which Hitler never did? If he has to allow certain evils to produce me, then doesn't he have to allow certain diachronic evils to produce the final good? That may be true, but something in it smacks of theistic necessitarianism (not mention anthropological historical determinism). If God always, by nature, wills the greatest good, then it seems he MUST always will the good in a certain way.

Conversely, assuming God could create me in essentia without necessarily "waiting for" the right complex to produce me, then what need is there to say regrettable evils are all part of God's otherwise free and good decision to make the world and me? What is the limit between allowing a proper complex to produce me and not allowing undue evil?

Driving me mad

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I knew I wasn't on to anything novel by posting about the Vatican's so-called Ten Commandments for Driving. I heard about it from a major secular newsfeed, so I can hardly pretend I scooped the story. It is a fairly regular flap in the blogosphere, so there's no reason why I should have pretended my fluttering about it would add much of substance. As I said, though, I blogged about the document because it touched me. Indeed, the sheer fun of reading with Christian eyes about something so commonplace and "secular" as driving was half my motive.

But I was also aware many other Catholics might find it a dull, insipid and basically laughable excretion from a bloated curial ghetto with perhaps nothing better to do. This has been borne out by my scattered reading about the Guidelines in the blogosphere. One Catholic writer was mildly accused of trying to make a silk purse of a sow's ear by highlighting good aspects of the Guidelines, of which he found very few. Another blogger I greatly respect called the document an instance of self-important ecclesial fatuity.

I beg to differ, however.

Far from being fatuous, the document strikes me as very timely and indeed beautiful at points. (I am willing to grant that the Guidelines' prose is disappointingly, well, prosaic.) It may just be a testimony to my own theological dimness, but I found brilliant the Guidelines' preliminary reflections on pilgrimage and travel, not only because they illuminated a theme as plain (and as ignored) as the nose on my face, but also because they rejuvenated the link between ordinary human mobility and the biblical narrative of the ecclesia peregrina. Partially my favor for the Guidelines stems from the fact that I often struggle with road rage and "driver burnout". So I read the Guidelines as direct spiritual counsel. Who knows how many other people did too? or should? or will?

Also, I love the fact that the Catholic Church so concretely manifests its catholicity. The blogger I linked to (above) may have been seized into the Church by her philosophical wisdom. Others by sacred art and music. Others by the Church's charity and missions. Others, whom I know personally, by the rock-like security and quietude to be found in your average, even "ho hum," Mass. Now others, may God grant the grace, might be called to repent or grow by a new awareness of driving as an apostolate and a spiritual battlefield. As the document says upfront: because driving, and, more fundamentally, mobility, is a basic human reality, it is the Church's duty and privilege to integrate it into the Gospel, and vice versa.

As for the document's fatuity, I wonder how those mentioned in it -- street children, prostitutes, victims of reckless driving, tramps, those beset with rage while driving -- would react. The document is an explicit call from the world's most distinct religious voice for people to notice and love such people. Love is borne out by action. A Church that acts enough to release a 30-page document on caring for such people has great love indeed. Ultimately, the document is as fatuous as the objects of its concern. How one ranks them should influence how one judges the document, although hopefully the converse it not true.

Friday, June 22, 2007

So, yeah, uh...

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I guess after five months away, I've returned to blogging. Let's not get all emotional, though, since I still feel my center of existential gravity is best kept offline. Thanks for dropping in. I missed you. Please pray for me. I've been writing and resting well but have struggled with acedia.

One more reason...

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... to hate Communism. Iconoclasm is still a heresy. A pinko would be my wounded Jew on the roadside in the parable of the Good Samaritan. A true challenge to my love.

On the other hand, here's one more reason to love being Catholic: you get the Theology of Driving! I admit to struggling with road rage and it's so easy to be cold and thoughtless in Taichung traffic. I printed and read this document the day it was posted because I knew it touched my spiritual life directly. As quirky as it sounds, it really is a beautiful document (available here).

John Paul II and Agca

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