The Holy Father's call for the year of Mercy is accompanied by his injunction to take Dante as our spiritual mentor in reflection upon and practice ofThe Holy Father's call for the year of Mercy is accompanied by his injunction to take Dante as our spiritual mentor in reflection upon and practice of misericordia. And so, the Divine Comedy has made its way to the top of my legendi, or "things to be read". I chose Esolen's translation to read in parallel with another contemporary rendition, Clive James' "decluttered" version that includes explanations of figures and references within the versified text itself (chosen for ease of listening while driving). Esolen's strikes me as the more pungent, precisely because he doesn't encumber Dante's poetry with dilatory background. Yet I appreciated most of all the introductory essay and chapter introductions in the notes that carry with them the conviction that what Dante speaks of is true, and universally so. Whether or not this or that medieval Italian traitor, thief, simoniac, or adulterer really sits in hell is immaterial to the eternally valid reality that betrayal, theft, simony, and unfaithfulness constitute soul-destroying acts that if beheld in the light of divine love are unspeakably, horrifyingly ugly. Esolen is of such a mind, and has been accumulating an almost fabled reputation as a voice of clarity and truth, pungent in his own right. (A small selection of his essays can be found here. Be sure to at least page through the appendices, especially the excerpts from Thomas Aquinas and Virgil, as well as the morsel of violent imagery in the poem by Bertran de Born (punished along with Mohammed in the eighth circle of hell with the other sowers of discord). I am eager for the Purgatorio to follow!...more
A life-changing work that I have only begun to appreciate. Perhaps I will never fully do so; but to be able to read it with delight caused me a greatA life-changing work that I have only begun to appreciate. Perhaps I will never fully do so; but to be able to read it with delight caused me a great and peaceful joy. ...more
Esolen is a favorite author of mine, and while I did enjoy this book, I think it misses the mark: not in content, but in form. His Ten Ways to DestroyEsolen is a favorite author of mine, and while I did enjoy this book, I think it misses the mark: not in content, but in form. His Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of your Child is written in the style of the Screwtape, a conceit that is perhaps designed to justify the periodically sarcastic tone of Esolen's thoughts on the subject of the formation of children's minds. Not that such sarcasm is unjustified--certainly not; so much of what he points out as laughably inadequate to the task of initiating young men and women into adulthood hits spot on.
Esolen does a fine job of specifying what exactly we should understand when the word "imagination" is used. It carries a meaning of fantasy or dreaminess that can often dismiss it as something proper only to children or the lazy. But in a more philosophically precise sense, imagination is the faculty by which we conceive images; and in this sense, imagination is active every time we make use of images, which is just another word for sensory input. Words are images. So are smells, textures, and sounds. All of them, mediated by memory and in concert with one another, become what the ancient Greeks recognized as "the doorway to the soul."
If the activity of our mind is mediated by the imagination, its structure and content takes on paramount importance. Reflect for a moment on the symbolism of a beautiful cathedral. Consider the scene: though what’s important is front and center, beauty is on all sides and leads one to a greater appreciation of the central reality of divine worship. Think of the windows. Is there not a subconscious effect exerted by these windows’ artistic beauty? In the process of allowing light to enter, a magnificent work of art is made visible which heightens the experience of the light and what it illuminates. Consider the effect that mundane or even ugly images in those windows would have (not a difficult exercise given the churches in which many of us worship today--a subject on which Esolen has no shortage of words).
I would liken the imagination to the windows of a cathedral. Much like the scenes upon the windows, the contents of the imagination affect the workings of the mind and heart, and ultimately, how we perceive reality, as it streams in through our senses. By taking advantage of the memory and the influence it has upon the imagination, men have the power to adorn the windows of their soul with truth, goodness, and beauty, all of which lead one to a heightened appreciation of the mystical quality of daily life.
We sniff at memorization, as hardly worth the name of study. That is wise of us. For the most imaginative people in the history of the world thought otherwise. "Zeus became enamored with fair-haired Memory," sings the ancient Greek poet Hesiod, "and she produced the nine Muses with their golden diadems, who enjoy festivities and the delights of song." The great epic poets invoked the Muses not to stir in them something supposedly "original," which usually is merely self-centered and peculiar, but to give them the twin gifts of memory and prophecy. "They breathed into me their divine voice," says Hesiod, "that I might tell of things to come and of things past, and ordered me to sing of the race of the blessed gods who live forever, and always to place the Muses themselves both at the beginning and at the end of my song."
A few points that stood out for me include the section on "piety of place." Being a Kansas resident, I do realize that my state is everyone's favorite fly-over state to hate. Yet I was encouraged by Esolen's insistence that attachment to place, a particular place, is constitutive of thought and imagination. Drawing from the work of Shakespeare and Flannery O'Connor, it's clear that the enemies of imagination find a great enemy in a love for a place and a country:
We see here the products of easy cynicism. Learn to despise the place where you were born, its old customs, its glories and its shame. Then stick your head in a comic book. That done, you will be triple-armored against the threat of a real thought, or the call of the transcendent. Some people have no worlds for God to pierce through.
I also enjoyed his perspective on food, and the hunting by which one may acquire it:
Deer hunting was a popular pastime in the rural Pennsylvania where I grew up. People who know nothing about the subject suppose it is for beer-drinking men who want to show off their prowess. Encourage that bigotry in your children. Do not let on that you know that hunting requires actual knowledge of anything, which a young person must learn from someone who is proficient. You have to know how to clean and take care of a rifle; what the difference between one gauge and the other is; what "trajectory" means. You have to coordinate your efforts with those of your fellow hunters, sometimes flushing the game, sometimes waiting, with numb fingers and aching knees, for the quarry to come. You are, at best, pitting your skill and your strategy against the animals, appreciating their strange ways, and not at all taking them for granted as creatures of strength and speed and keen instinct.
Many of the points he makes are grounded in his own experience of growing up in Pennsylvania, and so there is a decidedly autobiographical thread that runs throughout his catalog of imagination-slaying practices. My own opinion is that he should have stuck with autobiography--and the sarcasm would have come across as curmudgeonly and in earnest rather than being forced to carry the weight of a publisher's desire for an "angle."...more
I lent this book to a friend and found myself unable to engage him in meaningful conversation... so I decided to read it again.
What Miller does with aI lent this book to a friend and found myself unable to engage him in meaningful conversation... so I decided to read it again.
What Miller does with aplomb is transport his narrative into a distant future that is distant only for the sake of revealing quite homely truths, truths which are present here and now. As the saying goes, "Wherever you run to, there you are"--humanity of the future isn't much different than the humanity of our own day (despite the breathless conjectures of the transhumanists).
The setting of Miller's post-nuclear apocalyptic future is far less grim than Cormac McCarthy's ash-laden moonscape, but in some ways the narrative is far more so. Humanity has bombed itself back to the Stone Age, yes, but life has managed to find a way; yet the baser dimensions of our race--the lust for power, forgetfulness of the past, or the willingness to exploit and destroy--has also found a way to survive along with it. Yet grace has not been extinguished, either, and the monks of the Order of Liebowitz work to preserve the knowledge of a bygone age even as they pray, worship, and labor within the apostolic tradition. Their mission is to serve as custodians of the very technological know-how that once was used in the service of mass destruction, but will perhaps one day be useful again to a wiser and more self-controlled civilization. None of them understand the manuscripts they copy and guard; it is precisely their ignorance allows them to continue in service to the one thing necessary. Very little has changed in the day-to-day life of the monk--long fasts, total obedience, the trials of initiation and administration. Yet from them, as before, falls the thankless task of preserving civilization for a generation yet unborn that will snatch it from their hands and resent them for not having done more with it. The same scenes play out--the discoveries in the abbey basement, the first stumbling attempts at technological advance, the whisperings of blasphemy and stealing fire from heaven, and the rise of old heresies thought to have been laid to rest long ago. In fact, one of the most stirring passages of the book recounts the conflict between an abbot of the monastery and a government official running a refugee camp in the abbey's courtyard--and issuing certificates permitting the sick to be euthanized should they choose. Miller's approach to the problem is vivid, like so much of what comes earlier, and I've found myself repeating the words of that abbot even as I teach and preach on similar such questions.
"It never was any better, it never will be any better. It will only be richer or poorer, sadder but not wiser, until the very last day."...more
Heschel approaches the biblical witness of the prophets by diving in (as best he can) to the content of their experience--what is it like being a propHeschel approaches the biblical witness of the prophets by diving in (as best he can) to the content of their experience--what is it like being a prophet, seeing the world as they see it? Heschel certainly can write, and his treatment of prophecy as a "genre" unto itself offers tremendous insight to any student of the Ketub'im....more