Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Ball and the Cross Discussion Part One

Since I just finished this, and my mom is in the process of reading it, and we both love it, we though it would be a good time for a discussion. So to begin with:

Why did MacIan and Turnbull attack Mr. Wimpey?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Mozart as a second Innocent Smith? Part I

In one of my college-level textbooks on Mozart, the author states that although "Amadeus" took significant liberties with Mozart's character, Mozart seems to have been a child prodigy who never really grew up. Of course, for us Chestertonians, there are two kinds of not-growing-up. One is the person with an adult body and a child's mind: the eternal pop teenager (horrors!). And the other, of course, is the intellectually mature, unusually sensible, completely misunderstood eternal Chestertonain Child. Which was Mozart?

I don't know yet. I need to read the book, not just look at it. Until then, however, I would welcome your comments.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

A Couple of Quotes

I've been reading The Wisdom and Innocence (highly reccomended by the way) and I found this quote from The Thing: Why I am a Catholic. I certainly can not claim to fully understand it, but I thought it was worthy of being posted here:

In short, what the critics would call romanticism is in fact the only form of realism. It is also the only form of rationalism. The more a man uses his reason upon realities, the more he will see that the realities remain much the same… If the real girl is experiencing a real romance, she is experiencing something old, but not something stale. If she has plucked something from a real rose-tree, she is holding a very ancient symbol, but a very recent rose. And it is exactly in so far as a man can clear his head, so as to see actual things as they are, that he will see these things as permanently important as they are. Exactly in so far as his head is confused with current fashion and aesthetic modes of the moment, he will see nothing about it except that it is like a picture on a chocolate box… Exactly in so far as he is thing about real people, he will see that they are really romantic. Exactly in so far as he is thinking about pictures and poems and decorative styles, he will think that romance is a false or old-fashioned style. He can only see people as imitating pictures; whereas the real people are not imitating anything. They are only being themselves- as they always be. Roses remain radiant and mysterious, however many pink rosebuds are sprinkled like pips over cheap wallpapers. Falling in love remains as radiant and mysterious, however threadbare be the thousandth repetition of a rhyme as a valentine of a cracker-motto. To see this fact is to live in a world of facts. To be always thinking of the banality of bad wallpapers and valentines is to live in a world of fiction.

I also loved this from Oscar Wilde: "A cynic is a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing."

I just finished The Ball and the Cross today. All I can say for now is wow, but hopefully I'll manage a more complete review later on. For now, Goodnight!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Everlasting Ape-Man: A Modern Myth

"If the critic of mythology, upon hearing that the world was once nothing but a great feathered serpent, did not get an urge to kick his heels like a child and half-wish it were true, he is no judge of such things."

(loose quotation of a passage from The Everlasting Man)

And what does this have to do with anything? Consider this:
According to "Prehistoric Journey," an exhibit at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, the creature we call a whale came about in something like this way:

"At some point in time, the creatures we call animals came up out of the water, and began to live as land life-forms. These developed into diverse forms. Among these were the animals of the highest sort: the complex, motherly, and beautiful creatures we call mammals.
One of these animals was somewhat similar to the modern tiger, with carnivorous habits, orange-and-black striped fur (author's aside: why they illustrated him such, I shall never know, except that it looks cool), and claws. Spurred on by the inevetible destiny of evolution, it returned to its original home, the sea. Its ferocious nature, in the company of the serenity of the ocean, turned graudually or by leaps and bounds into the gentle and large creature we know as the whale."

I don't know about you, but I don't believe a word of it. I also find this idea, and indeed, all the ideas of evolution, to be highly poetic. I almost wish that I wished it were true. Why? Because evolution is a myth in the grand, Chestertonian sense of the word?

First: Chesterton says in The Everlasting Man, that myths are products of the human imagination, and that they are divorced from reason, a fact attested to by the philosophers who consistently disbelieved the myths, with their unworshippable objects of worship. To my knowledge (I do not wish to bore you with science here, although I am prepared to explain in the comments box), evolution on the scale espoused by the makers of "Prehistoric Journey" is practically impossible, and unworthy of belief. For this very reason, only imagination could have come up with these fascinating theories. Think of "Nebraska Man," for example, a creative imaginative construct based on a tooth. The evocative power of this biological artistry shows in the poetic response given to it by a disbeliever.

Second: Chesterton also says that mythology satisfied several human needs, such as the need for sacrifice and the need for doing certain things at certain times. Sincere believers in evolution sacrifice a great deal of time and effort, some of the most valuble things they have, in devotion to their beliefs. Whether they are right or wrong has no effect on the fact that they pay homage (not worship, of course) to the object of their either logical or illogical faith. Additionally, whenever they study anything relating to geology or fossils, they feel compelled to insert, with a regularity that seems almost ritualistic, their belief in this phenomenon, allowing it to affect their facts, their judgments, and their presentations. Indeed, one could even make a case that evolution was a greater mythology than the pagan beliefs, for the pagans sacrificed grain and cows, but the scientists ritually place their very minds in the service of Lady Evolution.

Third: Chesterton says that if he were to cease being a Catholic, he would become a pagan, and make the very trees holy places. Now, of course, the animals of the past are not worshipped, but they do acquire a sort of feudal dignity that they did not have before under the governance of this theory. In addition to their dignity as creations of God, every plant and animal is suddenly a recipient of a (albeit diluted) human emotion of pleasant surpise and greater wonder, for The Earth is our Mother, and the Sea Urchin our long-lost cousin.

So, whether you believe in evolution or not, treat it as Chesterton treated the Iliad, as a literary treasure, a thing of poetic beauty regardless of its truth.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Chestertonian Puzzler II

Well, I said I'd wait for five answers...they aren't forthcoming. Here's the repeat of the question, the one answer I recieved, and the next puzzler.

Assuming that it is technologically feasible to develop a computer powerful enough to sustain a realistic illusory world (The Matrix, for example). andAssuming that a society with such technology would test it, andAssuming they would test it more than once, andAssuming that the socety, like all societies, would become so decadent that things as stupid, immoral, pleasant, and morbid as that would become popular,It seems that there would be far more imaginary universes than real ones, hence we are thousands of times more likely to be living in an imaginary universe than a real one. The Puzzler:1. Why is this not true, even if you believe all the assumptions? (Hint: If there was a chapter in Orthodoxy you really didn't like, you might have a more difficult time answering this question.)2. Why does it not matter for the sake of most arts and sciences and the salvation of our souls?

Hans Lundahl said...
1) If you believe assumption one, meaning thereby the technical possibility (including economic feasability) of an illusion encompassing your whole consciousness, the conclusion is not so much untrue as misstated: we would be far more likely to be experiencing an imaginary world than the real one; if so we would perhaps be living in the real universe, but not experiencing it otherwise than indirectly, through the imaginary one.However, there is no such thing as a conclusive evidence for such a possibility; theoretically that could be part of the illusion, but there is no prima facie case for it.Pope Urban VIII, when condemning Galileo might have been foreseeing this scepticism as a consequence of believing each day that what your eyes and sense of balance tell you are sensory illusions. He tried to indicate the idiocy of unwarranted ultrascepticism, just as Luther and the Patriarchs who condemned Copernicus and Papal astronomers.2a Morals and logic are the same in any possible universe. (Blue Cross, first Father Brown story, author supposedly known on this site)2b Any imaginary world needs an imaginer in the real one, who can only distort reality so much, but cannot create a world from nothing. (Tree and Leaf, Tolkien)2c Even if you assume that you are living in a dream, act and decide as if living in real life. (La vida es sueƱo, Lope de Vega)

I might add that the belief that one is within a computer illusion is exactly the type that is condemned in the chapter called "The Maniac" in Orthodoxy. Another somewhat convincing proof of the reality of what we experience (as opposed to the idea that it is a computer illusion) is the problem of evil. Why would a person put in evil in their imaginary world? I can think of three types of human persons who would do such a thing: a sadist, a poet, and a consummate deceiver who beleived it would make the illusion more realistic. It cannot be the sadist, for if it were, the imaginary world would be far more evil than it is. It cannot be a poet, for the person who designed the world, if he is a poet, is obviously a superlative poet. If he is a superlative poet, however, he would know that an imaginary world would be less poetical than a real one, and would never have made the illusion in the first place. If he is a realistic person, why has the absolute power that he has over the lives of his patients not made him into the sadist?

Anyway, here is the next puzzler. It's much funnier.

A man in Ireland planted an apple tree in his backyard. That night, an Irish fairy came. Using a chapter from a book by Chesterton, she cast a spell on the tree. That fall, in the time when the apples were ripe, the man was found to have been eaten by a well-known animal from India. What chapter of what book by Chesterton did the fairy use?

Hint: The book by Chesterton is one of his more famous ones. There are also two completely irrelevant details in the puzzle.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Radical Feminist of Notting Hill (An Antecdote of ChesterCon)

What would you do if you saw a book called 'The Gift of Beauty, the Good as Art' on sale from Notting Hill Books? If you said 'nothing,' think again. Remember that you would be in a frenzy of Chesterton Enthusiasm.
Anyway, I did see such a book in such a place, and blithely bought it. Contentedly, it sat on my shelf, waiting to impart supposed words of wisdom and giving me all the famed 'delights of anticipation.'
It was then that I decided to take a look at the bibliography. I discovered, to my shock, that many of the source texts had titles like...well, you may have younger siblings looking over your shoulder. I felt even stupider when I saw on the book jacket (which I had read before buying) that the author was a radical feminist. Don't worry, this is a happy story.
Soooo...I e-mailed Notting Hill Books. You would be surprised if they turned out to be evil, wouldn't you. I learned (drum roll, please) that the book had been bought by Notting Hill Books as part of a large collection, and that its inclusion in the display in St. Paul had been a complete accident. So now, I am going to return it so that Notting Hill Books can have heat this winter, and in return, they are going to send me a much better book by Jaques Martrain. So next time, please do judge a book by its cover.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

There's a Clerihew contest...

put on by Reader's Digest.

I think perhaps that some of you could do better. :)

UPDATE: Oops - just realized you have to be logged in to submit Clerihews there. Feel free to post them in the comments here if you prefer.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Father Brown Friday - The Wrong Shape

St. Mungo, also known as Kentigern, was a bishop in the sixth century. He founded the see of Glasgow and was the grandson of a British prince. He also is the patron of Father Brown's parish in The Wrong Shape.

In a number of the FB stories, such as "The Wrong Shape", "The Sign of the Broken Sword" and "The Honor of Israel Gow", it seems small details; things that are incomplete, the wrong shape or just slightly off, aid Father Brown in the solving of the mystery.

Obviously, this is especially key in the story currently under discussion. One of the first objects of the wrong shape to catch Father Brown's eye was an oriental dagger. Some of his remarks on the subject struck GilbertGirl, Algernon and I as quite interesting, such as:

"Don't you see it is the wrong shape? Don't you see that it has no hearty and plain purpose?"


"It's very beautiful," said the priest in a low, dreaming voice; "the colours are very beautiful. But it's the wrong shape."

"What for?" asked Flambeau, staring.

"For anything. It's the wrong shape in the abstract. Don't you ever feel that about Eastern art? The colours are intoxicatingly lovely; but the shapes are mean and bad-- deliberately mean and bad. I have seen wicked things in a Turkey carpet."

Which begs the question: What shapes are mean?

Eastern culture plays a VERY significant role in this story and brings about several other interesting quotes:

"When first he said `I want nothing,' it meant only that he was impenetrable, that Asia does not give itself away. Then he said again, `I want nothing,' and I knew that he meant that he was sufficient to himself, like a cosmos, that he needed no God, neither admitted any sins. And when he said the third time, `I want nothing,' he said it with blazing eyes. And I knew that he meant literally what he said; that nothing was his desire and his home; that he was weary for nothing as for wine; that annihilation, the mere destruction of everything or anything--"

"...he dealt much in eastern heavens, rather worse than most
western hells..."

"The Christian is more modest," muttered Father Brown; "he wants something."

While we're on the topic, GilbertGirl, Algernon and I were wondering earlier, was Chesterton in any way prejudiced against the east?

Mrs. Quinton is an interesting character, although you don't see much of her, "that's the kind of woman that does her duty for twenty years, and then does something dreadful." What do you think of her? Why did she marry Mr. Quinton?

Also don't miss GilbertGirl's dramatic ChesterTrance involving this story.

P.S. GilbertGirl, Algernon, I'm quite sure I forgot things, do fill in.

Our table (well most of it) during one of the many toasts at the closing banquet. And speaking of toasts David Zach's delightful toast can be found here.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Chesterton's Present to his Translators

O.k. those of you who translate, did you know that Chesterton wrote a passage especially for us?

When the linguistic symbol for fines-that-are-too-big-to-be-fines tested the depth of the water uh the language piece for Chesterton's favorite pet, the Divine Son of Horus boldly quashed a living ham as a pecattic word-diversion and gambled it. So a nearly avant-garde spiritual substance who deals in Egyptian communication fashions strength symbolize 'at once' by drawing (in the fashion of the animals in the jungles of Upton Sinclair) a cushy helmet followed by a trilogy of the purest mathematical symbol. It was saintly enough for the Divine Son of Horus, and it ought to be saintly enough for his more senile age of Father Time counterpart. But the aforementioned grown-up-version of what kindergarteners do must have been marvelously stimulating to the chemichals in the brain that cause one to feel pleasure to enscript or decipher these envoyances, when immersing quills in jet-liquid to create meaningful chicken-scratch or immersing the ocular organs in the same fowl-marks to pick meaning off their bare brances were in reality a thing whose birthday had just come...the Divine Son of Horus surrounded by his priests as a speck of clover is surrounded by agrarian weeds and the whole lot lionizing with hilarious flutters of the diaphram and fertilely ejecting bubbles of ideas as the Son's puns matured into things more immature and more tragic to adhere to."

Oops...That was the translated version. Here's the real one, taken from "The Everlasting Man."

"When the word for taxes sounded rather like the word for pig, the pharoh boldly put down a pig as a bad pun and chanced it. So a modern hieroglyphist might represent 'at once' by unscrupulously drawing a hat followed by a series of upright numerals. It was good enough for the pharoh, and it ought to be good enough for him. But it must have been great fun to write or even to read these messages, when writing and reading were really a new thing...the king among his priests and all of them roaring with laighter and bubbling over with suggestions as the royal puns grew more wild and indefensible."

Interesting Facts About the Odyssey

Here is an article pertaining to the Odyssey that was in the paper about a month ago. WARNING!! It contains MAJOR spoilers for those who have not yet read the Odyssey in any way, shape, or form. If you would like to read it, I suggest that you click on it so that it opens in a new and larger window.


Math is the alphabet with which God wrote the universe - Galileo Galilei

Nullum magnum ingenium sine mixtura dementiae fuit - There has been no great talent without an element of madness - Seneca

A Smorgasbord...

...Just to prove that I am still alive!!! (:

Guess what, Dr. Thursday's posting again!!!!!!!!!

And I just stumbled across this, do take a look, it's quite lovely. A few of my favorite quotes:

People have fallen into a foolish habit of speaking of orthodoxy as something heavy, humdrum, and safe. There never was anything so perilous or so exciting as orthodoxy. It was sanity: and to be sane is more dramatic than to be mad . . . The orthodox Church never took the tame course or accepted the conventions; the orthodox Church was never respectable . . . It is easy to be a madman: it is easy to be a heretic. It is always easy to let the age have its head; the difficult thing is to keep one's own. It is always easy to be a modernist; as it is easy to be a snob . . . It is always simple to fall; there are an infinity of angles at which one falls, only one at which one stands. To have fallen into any one of the fads from Gnosticism to Christian Science would indeed have been obvious and tame. But to avoid them all has been one whirling adventure; and in my vision the heavenly chariot flies thundering through the ages, the dull heresies sprawling and prostrate, the wild truth reeling but erect.


Creeds must disagree: it is the whole fun of the thing. If I think the universe is triangular, and you think it is square, there cannot be room for two universes. We may argue politely, we may argue humanely, we may argue with great mutual benefit; but, obviously, we must argue. Modern toleration is really a tyranny. It is a tyranny because it is a silence. To say that I must not deny my opponent's faith is to say I must not discuss it . . . It is absurd to have a discussion on Comparative Religions if you don't compare them.

-The History of Religions from the Illustrated London News, October 10

Catholics, I need not say, are about as likely to call the Pope God as to call a grasshopper the Pope.
- The Thing

I've probably linked to this before, but just in case I haven't, here it is now, and I must say it is inexpressibly useful.

ChesterCon talks are now available here, and next years Conference is going to be in Seattle! (You probably already knew that)

And finally don't miss The Apostle of Common Sense showing EWTN. (If you, like me, don't have cable, you can watch on the internet here.)