“a world that seeks only a varieties of comfort and metaphysical appeasement.”

From the April 21 TLS, a review by Cynthia Haven of Andrezj Franaszek’s Czeslaw Miłosz biography and Miłosz’s own previously unpublished science fiction novel “The Mountains of Parnassus”:

At one shattering moment in his life, however, he rejected his vocation: on February 1, 1951 Miłosz, in Paris as a cultural attaché for the Stalinist government of Poland, stepped into a waiting taxi that took him to Maisons-Laffitte in the suburbs. The thirty-nine year old defector spent three and a half months in hiding at the offices of Kultura , an important émigré journal of politics and literature. He wrote: “my decision marks the end of my literary career. He had walked out on more than five years of service to the Communist government, most recently in the grim, barricaded French embassy where insubordinate employees were drugged and delivered to the airport, and where others never left the building for fear of being dismissed. He had longed for “a place on earth where I could wear a face and not a mask”, but still believed he had turned his back on the future by defecting.

Miłosz was the first writer and intellectual of such distinction to defect from the Soviet bloc, and the first to give his reasons publicly, saying that a lie is the source of all crime and that “the paramount duty of a poet is to tell the truth.” For this, he was subjected to vicious slander and attacked from old friends in Poland, the left-wing Parisian intelligentsia, and ever other émigrés. Miłosz became an Orwellian un-person in his native land, and would not see his wife and  two sons again for more than two years.

 

Haven’s summary of “The Mountains of Parnassus” is also worth quoting:

Cardinal Vallberg in the novel describes his contemporaries, our descendants, whose “imagination had been incapacitated and could no longer hold a Heaven, a Purgatory, or a Hell”. This “second space” would haunt Miłosz’s last poems. What is left after its loss is a world that seeks only a varieties of comfort and metaphysical appeasement. As one character explains, “time both terrified and offended us, and thus it had to be destroyed and replaced with intensity of experience in every living moment, so that a great deal could happen before the hands of the clock revealed the passing of even a single minute.”

Sounds pretty contemporary, does it not? This is expanded on by Emma Schneider in her review at Full Stop:

The philosophical strength of The Mountains of Parnassus amplifies as it moves from one story to the next, concluding in an appendix that depicts the dissolution of religion and art and the reformation of ritual. Milosz lingers in this final section; he muses over humanity’s increasing inability to believe in the divine — not for a lack of desire to believe, but for a lack of imagination. Milosz describes the multitudes of artists that proliferate in the postmodern age who print their “100,000 almost identical poems” every day and create a din “like an enormous hall filled with endless rows of pianos. Everybody was playing his own instrument, straining to drown out the others” and unable to hear more than a neighbor, even were he to pause his fingers and try to listen (124). The future Milosz presents is marked by hurried, empty excess. Meaning is ever harder to believe in.

And yet, there remains hope throughout his writing in the option of slowing down and returning to earth, as the Astronaut chooses to do. This choice is one that accepts death as one of the bounds that gives life significance and shape. In his introduction to the text, Milosz accepts the partiality and imperfection of his own production and hopes that “the reader’s imagination will receive no shortage of small stimuli, but also an expansive area in which it can freely glide — which perhaps is better than having everything spelled out and constrained by the twists and turns of the characters’ stories” (11). Indeed, it is a text that presents just enough information to raise questions about this speculative world but answers none of them. Although this sparseness induces confusion, even detachment on first reading the novel, it, like a poem, opens holes to consider upon meandering back through its prose.

The main sections’ hazy tone coupled with minimal world-building threaten to drown the reader in lassitude, but the introductory remarks convey Milosz as playful and personable, a compatriot who derides the “diabolical boredom emanating” from many contemporaries novels ‘tormented by structuralist theories,” which “seems hostile to the very vocation of narrative (6). Although written for its initial (unsuccessful) trip to the publisher in 1972, the introduction’s commentary on the state of the novel remains strikingly accurate. Indeed, perhaps the entire novel proves better suited to the current moment than to the one it was born out of 45 years ago. As life moves ever faster and mysteries are persistently revealed, Milosz’s unusual song amidst the roar of the pianos creates a necessary excuse to pause.

Adam Kirsch on Emmanuel Carrère, faith, and Christianity’s ability to scandalise

From the April 21st TLS:

The decline in churchgoing across Europe over the past two centuries has had the paradoxical result of restoring one of Christianity’s most notable features – the ability to scandalize. When a man like Emmanuel Carrère – an esteemed and successful French writer of fiction, non-fiction and screenplays, a sometime member of the Cannes film jury – suddenly declares himself to be a devout Christian, as he did in the autumn of 1990, the effect on his secular acquaintances brings to mind the effect of a similar announcement by a Roman matron 2,000 years ago. It’s not just shock but a kind of contempt: how could a person like you believe a story like that?

When Carrère was “touched by grace” – “it embarrasses me to put it that way today, but that’s how I put it at the time”, he writes in his new book The Kingdom – he was also undergoing psychoanalysis, and the reaction of his analyst to his declaration of faith was telling. Wasn’t Carrère’s new found belief in God the Father actually just “a crutch that I’m using on the journey toward an understanding of the place occupied in my life by own father?” This widely held secular view echoes the Nietzschean and Freudian assumptions that religion is always an imaginative compensation for suffering.

Carrère understands both faith and unbelief. … For as his reference to “embarrassment” implies, he had long ceased toe be a Christian by the time he began this book … But he is still torn, and fascinated, by the knowledge that his past self would have been devastated by his current self’s scepticism, just as his current self is aghast at his earlier faith.

The whole review is interesting, and while Kirsch is pretty sceptical of the book’s literary merits, the piece is a worthwhile meditation on the “literary shaping of Christianity” as the headline has it.

 

Adam deVille on failing to understand Marx and Freud

A month ago I featured long segments from a post by Adam DeVille on the romanticisation of monasticism. Again, here is another post worth reading in full.

What makes this post important is that, too often, commentators on “therapy culture” engage not with the actual thought that underlines psychotherapy, but a sort of a caricature. For instance, Frank Furedi’s “Therapy Culture” is an attack on what is presented as a privileging of emotion over reason and a denial of personal agency and responsibility. True perhaps of some of the bastardisations of therapy that permeate pop culture, but not of actual therapy as practiced by actual, rigorously trained therapists.

Back to deVille:

What makes Freud useful for MacIntyre is his unparalleled insight into the nature of our desires, and how we fail to be good reasoners when our desires go astray or are corrupted by unconscious trauma; and what makes Marx still so important and useful is that he continues to offer those willing to listen a very powerful critique of how capitalism subtly exploits and fuels those desires Freud recognized.

It is, alas, a staple of too much cheap and grubby Christian apologetics for a century and more now to run down Freud and Marx alike without ever having seriously read either man in the original (or a scholarly translation) and to treat both as the greatest threat ever faced by Christianity. I count myself fortunate to have been introduced, as an undergraduate in psychology in Ottawa in the early 1990s, to the original writings of both Freud and Jung (and others in that first generation around Vienna) in several classes, including especially a class on psychoanalysis and religion taught by a professor who was himself a Christian and not threatened by what psychoanalysis had to offer.

What makes Freud useful for MacIntyre is his unparalleled insight into the nature of our desires, and how we fail to be good reasoners when our desires go astray or are corrupted by unconscious trauma; and what makes Marx still so important and useful is that he continues to offer those willing to listen a very powerful critique of how capitalism subtly exploits and fuels those desires Freud recognized.

It is, alas, a staple of too much cheap and grubby Christian apologetics for a century and more now to run down Freud and Marx alike without ever having seriously read either man in the original (or a scholarly translation) and to treat both as the greatest threat ever faced by Christianity. I count myself fortunate to have been introduced, as an undergraduate in psychology in Ottawa in the early 1990s, to the original writings of both Freud and Jung (and others in that first generation around Vienna) in several classes, including especially a class on psychoanalysis and religion taught by a professor who was himself a Christian and not threatened by what psychoanalysis had to offer.

Murphy Devitt Stained Glass from Franciscan Abbey, Clonmel.

Murphy Devitt Stained Glass from Franciscan Abbey, Clonmel.

 

Over recent months I have been blogging pictures of stained glass mainly (but not exclusively) from Tipperary churches. These photos are taken with my phone and I cannot claim to have cracked how best to do this, often they are taken in a somewhat rushed manner as I am a little self conscious about this at times. These churches are after all places of worship and I am loath to disturb or distract.

I started this meaning to record, as best I could, what is very much a neglected art form. Even the smallest Irish village will have a church, and often multiple churches, which will feature stained glass. Some of these images have struck me as exceptionally moving and beautiful, some aesthetically interesting, some culturally interesting (from instance the way the image of St Monica and St Augustine in the Augustinian Abbey in Fethard is based on a popular religious painting of the time)

There is also the sheer joy of discovery of, for instance, the stained glass in the Church of the Visitation, Cloneen, or of the fact that the stained glass in the stained glass in the Chapel of St Anthony in the Franciscan Abbey in Clonmel was from Murphy Devitt studios.

Since then I corresponded with Reiltin Murphy, daughter of John Murphy, and found out there are other examples of Murphy Devitt glass not only in Tipperary but in Clonmel. Indeed some is in the main body of the church in the very same Franciscan Abbey:

 

Leandro Herrero: “An enlightened top leadership is sometimes a fantastic alibi for a non-enlightened management to do whatever they want”

Auto reblogging is perhaps a little narcissistic but this is something that has relevance far beyond healthcare…. Dr Herrero’s blog is highly highly recommended.

A Medical Education

From Leandro Herrero’s  website, a “Daily Thought” which I am going to take the liberty of quoting in full:

Nothing is more rewarding than having a CEO who says world-changing things in the news, and who produces bold, enlightened and progressive quotes for all admirers to be. That organization is lucky to have one of these. The logic says that all those enlightened statements about trust, empowerment, humanity and purpose, will be percolated down the system, and will inform and shape behaviours in the milfeulle of management layers below.

I take a view, observed many times, that this is wishful thinking. In fact, quite the opposite, I have seen more than once how management below devolves all greatness to the top, happily, whilst ignoring it and playing games in very opposite directions. Having the very good and clever and enlightened people at the top is a relief for…

View original post 506 more words

First Known When Lost on Spring and mortality, with Herrick, Wallace Stevens, and Epictetus

Original here

Spring beautifully — and gently — counsels us to be mindful of our mortality. This is sound advice. In fact, we are well-advised to consider our mortality on a daily basis, through all the seasons. I am not suggesting that we should brood over “the strumble/Of the hungry river of death” from morn to eventide. But an awareness of the shortness of our stay here provides a sense of perspective, and reminds us that we ought to be continually grateful for what the World bestows upon us, without our asking, each day.

Spring (like all the other seasons) teaches us gratitude, though the gratitude may at times have a wistful and bittersweet cast.

To Blossoms

Fair pledges of a fruitful tree,
Why do ye fall so fast?
Your date is not so past;
But you may stay yet here a while,
To blush and gently smile;
And go at last.

What, were ye born to be
An hour or half’s delight;
And so to bid goodnight?
‘Twas pity Nature brought ye forth
Merely to show your worth,
And lose you quite.

But you are lovely leaves, where we
May read how soon things have
Their end, though ne’r so brave:
And after they have shown their pride,
Like you a while: They glide
Into the grave.

Robert Herrick, Poem 467, Hesperides (1648).

“Death is the mother of beauty.” (Wallace Stevens, “Sunday Morning.”) What do blossoms do? They “stay yet here a while,/To blush and gently smile;/And go at last.” What do “lovely leaves” do? “They glide/Into the grave.” This is how the World works, and there is no reason to brood or to grieve. Our response should be gratitude. Gratitude and acceptance.

“Do not seek to have everything that happens happen as you wish, but wish for everything to happen as it actually does happen, and your life will be serene.”

Epictetus, The Enchiridion, Section VIII (translated by W. A. Oldfather, 1928).

Stained glass from St Mary’s Church, Grangemockler, Tipperary

Stained glass from St Mary’s Church, Grangemockler, Tipperary

Grangemockler Church is most famous for its links to Michael Hogan, victim of the 1920 Bloody Sunday and namesake of the stand.
It has a selection of attractive stained glass, including images of a pelican  (believed to feed it’s own blood to its young, and therefore akin to Christ, more info here) St Patrick and the Crucifixion 

Many churches will have many panels of relatively plain stained glass, some indeed barely coloured at all. This glass is less striking than other pieces usually, but here is a good example of how light can illuminate  even a plain ish window into something more…. not that this photo adequately captured the effect:

Here is another panel, more elaborate but not represational as such, which I found striking.