Statist presumption

The common man is typically unnoticed in history, literature, and art. Reviewing James C. Scott’s book Against the Grain for the TLS, Crispin Sartwell writes:

If this picture is even roughly or partly true, mainline anthropology has been profoundly distorted by what we might call a statist presumption, by the equation, for example, of civilization with large-scale political authority. It lays open the question of who did the research, and for whom. The historical narrative, for many reasons, has been dominated by large states and empires that engaged, for example, in elaborate record-keeping and monumental architecture; what persists in time is inordinately the self-interpretation and self-presentation of political power.

TLS July 19 2019

Khomeini on Imperialism

In light of our current situation with Iran I decided to break out a book I have but have not read called Islam and Revolution, Writings and Declarations of Imam Khomeini. In the initial chapter—“Islamic Government”—Khomeini says that imperialists are not truly Christians, “…for the imperialists really have no religious belief, Christian or Islamic.” I can agree with him there. He then goes on to make an assertion that I think is highly suspect, and for which I doubt there is much evidence:

…throughout this long historical period, and going back to the Crusades, they [the imperialists] felt that the major obstacle in the path of their materialistic ambitions and the chief threat to their political power was nothing but Islam. They therefore plotted and campaigned against Islam by various means.

I don’t know who “they” are but this is a paranoid view on the face of it.

Reading

2019 was a good year for reading for me. I was able to dig in to Hemingway and read his major works on the back end of the year. Earlier I read almost all six volumes of Karl Ove Knausgård’s My Struggle, most of which I enjoyed immensely. Reading both of these talented writers illustrated clearly what different times we live in, how much has changed in the eighty or so years between them. Outwardly the forms of how we live has not changed that much: we drive cars, eat meals, wash, and shave in the same way. The thought-world that we occupy has been turned upside down however, and that is easy to see reading their books.

I have lots of directions I want to to head in for 2020, and I’m sure some new paths will emerge as well. Right now I’m hoping to get to Kant, Hegel, and Dante among others. Most of my life is spent catching up to the education I wish I had rather than the one I actually had.

Rev. Blake Johnson on Holy Orders

Blake Johnson contributed to the discussion of women’s ordination over on the Theopolis blog. One point he makes that readers of James Jordan will find familiar is:

The typological representation in marriage is gendered. And so it is in a liturgical context. Genesis doesn’t give us a biological description of male and female, but it does give us a liturgical one. Like marriage, liturgy does not assume androgynous categories of the body, but invests male and female categories with typological significance, rooted in creation and pointing to redemption.

The Culture Wars Weren’t Real

Writing in the February 9, 2018 TLS, Julius Krein says:

…the culture wars, in a critical sense, were never real. The Right did not “lose” and the Left did not “win.” The true winners were Goldman Sachs, Amazon and Facebook, and their victory was inevitable. What was disputed all along were merely the terms under which a neoliberal political economy would be legitimated.

Goodbye Baby Blue

Mary Ailes died today. She was one of the pioneers of Anglican blogging who was in the thick of things from Truro in Virginia, in the early days of CANA. To me it feels like yesterday but it is quickly fading into the past. I met her in person once and she was a kind soul. I am thankful for her work in proving that blogs could be a great source of news, something that we have gone backwards on I fear. Her blog is available at:

https://babybluecafe.blogspot.com/

and

https://babyblueonline.org/

In the midst of life we are in death…

Hiding real life from ourselves

Karl Ove Knausgård writes about human life and how it is the same across time:

One thing I had learned when I was working at the first institution: life wasn’t modern. All the variants, all the deformities, all the freaks of nature, all the mental disabilities, all the insanity, all the injuries, all the illnesses, they still existed, they were as present now as they had been in the Middle Ages, but we had hidden them, we had put them in enormous buildings in the forest, created special camps for them, consistently kept them out of sight so as to give the impression the world was hale and hearty, that that was how the world and life were, but they weren’t, life was also grotesque and distorted, sick and crooked, undignified and humiliated. The human race was full of fools, idiots, and freaks, either they were born like this or they became like this, but they were no longer on the streets, they no longer ran around frightening the wits out of people, they were in civilization’s shadow, or night.

Posted in art

C.S. Lewis on Prayer Book Revision

Source: Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer

And that brings me back to my starting point. The business of us laymen is simply to endure and make the best of it. Any tendency to a passionate preference for one type of service must be regarded simply as a temptation. Partisan “Churchmanships” are my bête noire. And if we avoid them, may we not possibly perform a very useful function? The shepherds go off, “every one to his own way” and vanish over diverse points of the horizon. If the sheep huddle patiently together and go on bleating, might they finally recall the shepherds? (Haven’t English victories sometimes been won by the rank and file in spite of the generals?)

As to the words of the service—liturgy in the narrower sense—the question is rather different. If you have a vernacular liturgy you must have a changing liturgy; otherwise it will finally be vernacular only in name. The ideal of “timeless English” is sheer nonsense. No living language can be timeless. You might as well ask for a motionless river.

I think it would have been best, if it were possible, that necessary change should have occurred gradually and (to most people) imperceptibly; here a little and there a little; one obsolete word replaced 15 in a century—like the gradual change of spelling in successive editions of Shakespeare. As things are we must reconcile ourselves, if we can also reconcile government, to a new Book.

If we were—I thank my stars I’m not—in a position to give its authors advice, would you have any advice to give them? Mine could hardly go beyond unhelpful cautions: “Take care. It is so easy to break eggs without making omelettes.”

Already our liturgy is one of the very few remaining elements of unity in our hideously divided Church. The good to be done by revision needs to be very great and very certain before we throw that away. Can you imagine any new Book which will not be a source of new schism?

Most of those who press for revision seem to wish that it should serve two purposes: that of modernising the language in the interests of intelligibility, and that of doctrinal improvement. Ought the two operations—each painful and each dangerous—to be carried out at the same time? Will the patient survive?

What are the agreed doctrines which are to be embodied in the new Book and how long will agreement on them continue? I ask with trepidation because I read a man the other day who seemed to wish that everything in the old Book which was inconsistent with orthodox Freudianism should be deleted. 16

For whom are we to cater in revising the language? A country parson I know asked his sexton what he understood by indifferently in the phrase “truly and indifferently administer justice”. The man replied, “It means making no difference between one chap and another.” “And what would it mean if it said impartially?” asked the parson. “Don’t know. Never heard of it,” said the sexton. Here, you see, we have a change intended to make things easier. But it does so neither for the educated, who understand indifferently already, nor for the wholly uneducated, who don’t understand impartially. It helps only some middle area of the congregation which may not even be a majority. Let us hope the revisers will prepare for their work by a prolonged empirical study of popular speech as it actually is, not as we (a priori) assume it to be. How many scholars know (what I discovered by accident) that when uneducated people say impersonal they sometimes mean incorporeal?

What of expressions which are archaic but not unintelligible? (“Be ye lift up”). I find that people re-act to archaism most diversely. It antagonises some: makes what is said unreal. To others, not necessarily more learned, it is highly numinous and a real aid to devotion. We can’t please both.

I know there must be change. But is this the right moment? Two signs of the right moment occur to me. One would be a unity among us which enabled 17 the Church—not some momentarily triumphant party—to speak through the new work with a united voice. The other would be the manifest presence, somewhere in the Church, of the specifically literary talent needed for composing a good prayer. Prose needs to be not only very good but very good in a very special way, if it is to stand up to reiterated reading aloud. Cranmer may have his defects as a theologian; as a stylist, he can play all the moderns, and many of his predecessors, off the field. I don’t see either sign at the moment.

Yet we all want to be tinkering. Even I would gladly see “Let your light so shine before men” removed from the offertory. It sounds, in that context, so like an exhortation to do our alms that they may be seen by men.