Sunday, November 29, 2009

Friendship & Community

"The great sociologist Max Weber identified a pattern in the development of religious groups that he called the 'routinisation of charisma'. This is the phenomenon whereby the followers of a 'charismatic' religious teacher attempt to perpetuate their cohesion and purpose by codifying a doctrine, formulating rules and founding institutions. This process is probably necessary, yet how often, in the history of religious movements, it seems to contribute to the loss of what was most vital in the founder's vision.
A striking historical example of this phenomenon is the rapid rise and equally rapid ossification of the Franciscan Order within the Catholic Church. The Order, inspired by the leadership and example of Saint Francis himself, grew very swiftly in his lifetime. Not long after his death, however, a serious conflict developed between two wings – the 'spirituals', who wanted to stick to the pure vision of Francis, and the 'conventuals', who wanted to establish the Franciscans on the same lines as the other monastic orders of the time. The conflict finally ended in the triumph of the conventuals and – tragically – the execution of some of the spirituals.
Although Franciscans remain numerous in the Catholic Church to this day, they are divided into many separate orders, for the same tension has been played out again and again since that time. What is more, the bitterness of the original conflict seems to show that Francis failed to transmit his own inspiration fully. The most likely explanation of his failure is that he allowed his order to grow too fast for the successful communication (and therefore the preservation) of his spiritual vision. There was no possibility that his influence – his spiritual friendship, as one might call it – could be transmitted throughout such a rapidly expanding body.
One lesson from this story is that a spiritual community can only expand at the speed at which a circle of friendships can grow. Otherwise it becomes merely an institution. An institution may still be a force for good in the world: it may still be animated here and there, from time to time, with flashes of the original fire, but in itself it is something less than a spiritual community. A mere institution lacks the spiritual community's harmonious unity – its 'oneness in mind' – and its spiritual vitality.
Let me emphasise that I am not saying that 'institutions' as such are the enemy of harmony or vitality. Actually, they are indispensable if a spiritual group wishes to grow beyond a small, private circle, to have a real influence on the world. But institutional growth must be the servant of an expanding network of friends, not a substitute for it.
A test of the spiritual vitality of any spiritual institution is therefore whether there are strong friendships among its members. A clue would be found in the relative importance given to friendship over other kinds of relationship. If, on examining such a group, one saw that even married members put more emphasis on their spiritual friendships than on their family relationships (while not shirking their family duties, of course) it would augur well for the survival of that fellowship as a true spiritual community. One should also, however, consider whether the members not only got on well among themselves, but were also friendly to people beyond their own charmed circle. True friendship is not exclusive; it always includes a willingness to make new friends."

Kuan Yin Myth

Saturday, November 14, 2009

'The Red Pagan' by Alfred George Stephens (1865-1933)

"Literature is the human mind's effective manifestation in written language. That is put forward as the best definition attainable. For effective, if you like, read forceful or forcible. Everything is in the adjective. Artistic would be more satisfying in one sense; but what is artistic? — where is your criterion of art or of beauty? No; beauty must be construed in terms of strength — it is a mode of strength, as heat is a mode of motion. When you say effective, you do not eliminate the taste-cavil, the quality-cavil, but you refer it to a quantity standard that is more intelligible, more ponderable. How much, and how many, and for how long, does a book impress, and move, and thrill? What active energy does it disengage? What is its equivalent in thought-rays? in emotion-volts? What is its force, its effect? Estimate that, find that, judge that, and you will know a book's universal value as Literature. This standard of force is the ultimate standard. Tastes differ with individuals, countries, and eras; but three and two are five, and twice five are ten, everywhere in the universe. The scale inevitably adjusts itself. Uncle Tom's Cabin impressed many, and much; but for how long? Catullus has moved much, and long ; but how many? We argue that Catullus writes better Literature than Harriet Stowe — because people of 'taste', people of 'culture', people of 'learning', prefer Catullus. Well, if it be so, in the long run Catullus's total force of achieved impressions will outweigh Harriet Stowe's. Her work dies; his lives through the ages. His mind's 'effective manifestation' surpasses hers.

Style is a requisite of Literature ; but what is style ? Merely an aid to effect. Individual taste may prefer the florid or the simple ; but florid style or simple is valuable only in so far as it impresses, gives force. Having defined Literature as the mind's effective manifestation in written language, you can proceed to define the things that go to make effect, and style is one of them. But style, and thought, and emotion, and interest, and melody, and picture — these are only factors in the total. The total is force. In the last resort Literature must be judged, like everything else, by the force it develops — the quantity of latent energy which it makes active. Then one must wait ten thousand years to judge what is Literature. Yes; and longer than that. But you can make provisional judgments as you go along. If the literary effect of Mrs. Stowe is at this century's end equivalent to I0;r, and the literary effect of Catullus is equivalent to only Jx, you can still calculate on the future and defend your preference of Catullus, or of Mrs. Stowe. Nobody does, of course, but that is the only way to do it which will hold logic-water. Between any human mind, as agent, and the whole multitude of human minds, as objects, the sole fixed standard of measurement possible is a standard of how much force exerted, on how many, for how long. All the other standards shift with time, and place, and individuals, and circumstances.

So that, for humanity, Literature is the human mind's effective manifestation in written language. But, for the individual appraiser, there is a standard much more satisfactory, much more easily applied. Truth is — what you believe. Literature is — what you like. Admire the corollary: What I like is Literature....

Literature is one road to the Golden Age, one help to fix the date of the good time traditionally coming. And the object of existence on this earth is to have a good time. The only human way of having a good time is to get emotions, impressions, sensations — the most and most varied and most intense sensations that your brain can give. Every human being tries instinctively to live the most intensely conscious kind of life that he is capable of living, and to remain conscious for the longest possible period. A wise man would deliberately set himself to improve his brain and its attached body to the utmost limit of the cosmic and hereditary tether. He would get his sensations as he extended his capacity for sensations, but he would always look forward to the time when his brain would be as keen and full as he could make it by normal vital processes. Then, when his brain was full, he would start to absorb fully the world of sensations. Joy, grief, pleasure, pain, natural beauty, artistic beauty, the satisfaction of knowledge and the satisfaction of power, love, fatherhood, peace, war, the light of dawn and the light of woman's eyes, books and friends, music and mystery ; — he would welcome them all to the limit of his power to receive them all, when considered together with his mortality, his chance of continuing to receive all in the most intense measure. Deliberately he would milk the world of sensations into the bucket of his brain. And deliberately, if he understood that there was an intensity of sensation that transcended the normal power of his brain, he would artificially stimulate his brain, counting the cost, and realising that he was giving perhaps a day of normal life for a moment of life transcendent. Deliberately, a wise man would know excess and fatigue, intoxication and abstinence — for the pleasure of knowledge, and for the pleasure of excess and intoxication. And his motto would be, not 'Never too much', but 'Rarely too much' — 'Too much' accepted with the knowledge of his power to refuse if he so willed; 'Too much' welcomed because, on a calculation of chances, 'Too much' paid. Of course many philosophies contradict this philosophy. Yet observe that every philosopher adopts this philosophy. Disciples may swallow the universe in a pill of dogma, but the teacher compounds the pill from tested sensations.

Before the sheep can follow safely, the shepherd must know the path. Thus we see a long line of prophets, from Buddha to Tolstoy, engaged in regenerating the race with the elderly morals drawn from their unregenerate youth, and urging the duty of life-renunciation upon men who have never known the pleasure of life-acceptance. That is not pretty Nature's way. 'The world was made when a man was born. He must taste for himself the forbidden springs. He can never take warning from old-fashioned things. He must fight as a boy; he must drink as a youth. He must kiss, he must love; he must swear to the truth of the friend of his soul. He must laugh to scorn the hint of deceit in a woman's eyes that are clear as the wells of Paradise. And so he goes on till the world grows old; Till his tongue has grown cautious, his heart has grown cold; Till the smile leaves his mouth and the ring leaves his laugh. And he shirks the bright headache, you ask him to quaff. He grows formal with men, and with women polite, and distrustful of both when they're out of his sight. Then he eats for his palate and drinks for his head, And loves for his pleasure — and it's time he were dead....'

But, instead of dying, he lies down under a bo-tree or dons a peasant's smock, and distils delusive wisdom from the dregs of pomp and gayety that he can no longer enjoy. EXPERIENCE teaches; but only one's own experience. To gain your gospel you must earn your gospel. When Mrs. Besant visited our land Australia, I remember asking her if she could have accepted Theosophy at the outset of her public career. She reflected, and doubted, and opined, No; she had needed struggle: her life had fed a lamp to light her path. Ponder the exemplary case of Annie Besant. To many people she is a puzzle, a paradox. They contrast the creed she forsook with the creed she embraced, neo-Materialism with neo-Theosophy; and they see that the two are absolutely antagonistic, mutually exclusive. Yet here is a woman who passes from one to the other 'somewhat suddenly', in Bradlaugh's weighed and guarded phrase ; almost without a struggle, as it appears to others. In a moment she turns her mind upside-down, astounding friends by the ease with which she quits long-cherished convictions, and becoming immediately no less ardent and obstinate a champion of her new faith than of her old. The fruit of twenty years of strenuous thought tumbles at a single glance from the 'brilliant eyes' of Madame Blavatsky. Admitting her honesty, her sanity, how possibly account for a revolution so radical? But consider. The very violence of the contradiction between Annie Besant the Materialist and Annie Besant the Theosophist implies a close bond of unity. For it is of the essence of things that likeness breeds opposition, unlikeness apposition. Extremes meet ; complexity is nearest sim- plicity; and the universe rings with the chime of contraries. Perchance our paradox may sit on the in- most verge of harmony...."

There's a lot more to this book, 'The Red Pagan', from which this selection was excerpted; read more at:

Saturday, November 07, 2009

SATYRICON - a translation project 83.12 - 84.3

SATYRICON sentences 83.12 - 84.3

83.12 Ecce autem, ego dum cum ventis litigo, intravit
pinacothecam senex canus, exercitati vultus et qui videretur
nescio quid magnum promittere, sed cultu non proinde
speciosus, ut facile appareret eum hac nota
litteratum esse, quos odisse divites solent.

LXD But look, while I'm litigating with the breezes, an old white-haired man, with a troubled look, entered. There seemed to hang about him some nebulous promise of greatness. From his neglected grooming, it was evident that he was a man of letters, the sort whom wealthy men usually despise.

83.13 Is ergo ad latus constitit meum.

LXD Then he stood close beside me.

83.14 "Ego, inquit, poeta sum et, ut spero, non humillimi
spiritus, si modo coronis aliquid credendum est, quas etiam
ad imperitos deferre gratia solet.

LXD "I," said he, "am a poet and, I hope, not one lacking in talent, if one is to put any stock by laurels (which however grace is accustomed to grant also to the inexperienced).

83.15 'Quare ergo, inquis, tam male vestitus es?'

LXD "Why then," you ask, "are you so shabbily dressed?

83.16 Propter hoc ipsum.

LXD On account of this very fact.

83.17 Amor ingenii neminem unquam divitem fecit.

LXD The love of creative genius never made anyone rich.

83.18 "Qui pelago credit, magno se fenore tollit; qui pugnas
et castra petit, praecingitur auro; vilis adulator picto
iacet ebrius ostro, et qui sollicitat nuptas, ad praemia

LXD 'Whoever trusts the sea gains great profits for himself. Whoever seeks battles and barracks girds himself with gold.
The fawning flatterer lies drunk in his purple-bordered toga, and whoever wrecks marriages, sins for financial reward.

83.19 Sola pruinosis horret facundia pannis, atque inopi
lingua desertas invocat artes.

LXD Eloquence alone shivers from the frost in tattered rags, and calls upon the abandoned arts with his plaintive song.'

84.1 "Non dubie ita est: si quis vitiorum omnium inimicus
rectum iter vitae coepit insistere, primum propter morum
differentiam odium habet: quis enim potest probare diversa?

LXD "Without a doubt, it is thus: if anyone is unfriendly to all vices and sets in to conduct his life uprightly, he is regarded with hatred, primarily because his behavior is different; for who is able to tolerate differences?

84.2 Deinde qui solas exstruere divitias curant, nihil volunt
inter homines melius credi, quam quod ipsi tenent.

LXD And then, they who only care about accumulating wealth, don't want anything else to be considered better among all mankind than what they themselves possess.

84.3 Insectantur itaque, quacunque ratione possunt,
litterarum amatores, ut videantur illi quoque infra pecuniam

LXD So they persecute the lovers of letters in any way they are able, so that they may be seen as inferior to those with money.


Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Evelyn Waugh

"My knowledge of English literature derived chiefly from my home. Most of my hours in the form room for ten years had been spent on Latin and Greek, History, and Mathematics. Today I remember no Greek. I have never read Latin for pleasure and should now be hard put to compose a simple epitaph. But I do not regret my superficial classical studies. I believe that the conventional defence of them is valid; that only by them can a boy fully understand that a sentence is a logical construction and that words have basic inalienable meanings, departure from which is either conscious metaphor or inexcusable vulgarity. Those who have not been so taught — most Americans and most women — unless they are guided by some rare genius, betray their deprivation."
-- Evelyn Waugh