Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Wittgenstein on Doctrine vs Lifestyle

“I believe that one of the things Christianity says is that sound doctrines are all useless. That you have to change your life. (Or the direction of your life.) It says that wisdom is all cold; and that you can no more use it for setting your life to rights than you can forge iron when it is cold.”
— Ludwig Wittgenstein

Saturday, October 26, 2013

John F. Kanavaugh S.J., a Liberation Philosopher

If I could live my life over again, I would become a philosopher--not an academic but one who taught and wrote for everyone. I would want to be like John F. Kavanaugh S.J.

From America magazine, November 4, 2013:
Love of the Person. John F. Kavanaugh's Liberation Philosophy

A Brief Obituary which lists some of his columns:
John Kavanaugh, S.J. (1941-2012)

Remembering John Kavanaugh

 The articles he wrote, which were published regularly in Catholic newspapers and magazines, always stood out for their intelligence and reasonableness.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Fr. Giussani Proctors an Exam

This is why we love Fr. Giussani. Below is a passage from, The Religious Sense, from the chapter titled, Unreasonable Positions Before the Ultimate Question: Emptying the Question, from the section heading, The Theoretical Denial of the Questions.

"I was giving a test in religion for my third-year students at the high school where I was teaching and, while the students were writing, I was walking up and down between the aisles. Having returned to the front row of desks, I picked up from one of the students the first book that caught my eye. It was one of his textbooks, Chronicles of Contemporary Philosophy by Natalino Sapegna. I began thumbing through it to pass the time, and my eye simply happened to fall upon a page where  the author  described the life of Leopardi. At this point. I began to read with interest, but after about half a minute I exclaimed: "'Class! Stop the exam! Now you, with all of your presumptions, with all of your desire for autonomy, you read these things and accept them without question, as if you were just drinking a glass of water?' Indeed, here is the text:
The questions into which one condenses the confused, indiscriminate, and reflective callow capriciousness of adolescents, their primitive and undeveloped philosophy (that is, what is life? what is the use of it? what is the purpose of the universe? and why is there pain?), those questions from which the true adult philosopher distances himself, seeing them as absurd and lacking in any speculative value and of such a nature that they bring no answer or any possibility of development, precisely these become Leopardi's obsession, the exclusive content of his philosophy.
"Ah I understand," I said to my students, "Homer, Sophocles, Virgil, Dante, Dostoyevsky, Beethoven would  also be adolescents, because all of their art is driven by these questions, cries out to these needs which--as Thomas Mann used to say--give 'burning immediacy to all we say, and significance to to all our striving.' I am happy to stand in the company of these men, because a man who tosses out these questions is not human!"

Giacomo Leopardi

Wednesday, October 16, 2013


I speak here from memory, but let me caution you that over the course of my life, I have discovered that many of the things that I once held clearly and preciously in memory did not happen the way I recalled them.  Memory can be a trickster.

Note the similarity of the word Steppen to Stephen. I've read Steppenwolf at least once, in my late teens, perhaps again another time. When I was a sophomore in college, I saw the German film of the same name, the year it was released (1974). It adheres precisely to the novel.  The film is a work of art in its own right, and it had the same impact on me as the book.

I had a desire to re-read the novel, and yesterday I borrowed a copy from my local library. The beginning has a note from the author, Herman Hesse, stating that the overwhelming majority of people who read the book grossly misunderstood it. Hesse says that he wrote the book at age fifty, with all of the experiences and anxieties that a man of fifty is capable. Hesse says that the young people who loved the book did so for reasons he hadn't foreseen. He says that the older generation of readers had correctly understood the angst of Harry Haller but missed the overall meaning of the book, which Hesse says is about faith and healing. 

Near the beginning of the story, Harry Haller expresses an inner conflict between his loner, aggressive, wolf-like nature and his humanity. I recall that when I read the book forty years ago, I found this conflict disturbing and not something I wanted to contemplate. I recall that that is how Harry Haller reacted to his conflict as well.

At one point, Harry was invited to a dinner party. There had been talk in the newspapers about the possibility of going to war. In response, Harry had just published an article in a newspaper that was anti-war. At the dinner party, the friend who had invited Harry brought up the article in conversation, but he had not realized that Harry wrote it. The friend sharply criticized the article and the author (Harry). This caused Harry a great deal of emotional pain. I identify strongly with the fact that Harry had taken a principled stand on something that was against the common mentality and that he had to suffer personal criticism as a result.

Harry's initial encounter with the nightclub known as, The Magic Theater was enchanting. But just as with Harry, the activities in the theater soon caused me fear and anxiety. That is how I recall it anyway. I am not sure that I fully understood what went on in the theater, I am not sure that Harry did either. 

Steppenwolf is set Switzerland but in an area that bordered Germany and which was completely Weimar in culture. Historians describe the nightlife culture of Weimar as morally depraved. In the novel,the prostitutes, drug use, and theater are Hesse's artistic representations of the popular nightlife culture of Weimar. From the viewpoint of having last read the novel as much as forty years ago, I suspect that the effect of The Magic Theater was to force Harry to confront many of the issues within himself that he needed to confront. Perhaps my subconscious motivation in re-reading the book now is the same.

Perhaps with this reading I will understand the novel the way Hesse intended it.  Would anyone else like to visit The Magic Theater with me?

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Mihai on Postmodernism

“The postmodern individual is the most conditioned and the most chained human type that ever existed in our recorded history. Not only a complete slave to any whim or impulse that presents itself as ‘the next best thing’, but also the perfect puppet to even the most gross and evident manipulation. Since he can mold himself into anything he ‘wants’, the postmodernist can, thus, also be molded, from the outside, into anything that the technocratic ‘elites’ of our days desire. He can be subjected to all manners of social engineering, without even the least possibility of resistance, for he can never discern between his desire and the desire of another — in the absence of any absolute, stable point of reference, external circumstances become the only considerations, and circumstances can always be easily manipulated. However, what is most striking to this postmodern ‘philosophy’ is its resemblance of many traditional spiritual disciplines. Let’s take deconstructionism: in virtually any authentic religion or spiritual path, the goal is to purify the human person of passions and artificial desires in order to truly be one’s self, understood as the inner vocation and essence, which is the direct manifestation of the will of God. In postmodernism we see a caricature of this ideal. Here the individual is called upon to ‘release’ himself from the bondage of external ‘conventions’ and ‘constructs’ and be whoever he wants to be. However, without God, without the vertical dimension it all becomes a contradiction. Since no essence is recognized, the only solution that postmodernism sees is to become ‘free’ by a horizontal and meaningless change of artificial identities. In reality, as said above, the postmodernist doesn’t actually free himself from external ‘constructs’, but merely trades one for another ad nauseam.”

— Mihai, On Postmodernism

Goethe on the Religous Sense

“It is not given to us to grasp the truth, which is identical with the divine, directly. We perceive it only in reflection, in example and symbol, in singular and related appearances. It meets us as a kind of life which is incomprehensible to us, and yet we cannot free ourselves from the desire to comprehend it.”

― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Death Penalty

Lord have mercy on a society which embraces killing to show that killing is wrong.

America should be the shining city on a hill that the rest of the world looks up to.

We have to love justice more than we love revenge.

Anything less is un-American.