Monday, June 09, 2014

On Translighting English to English

When asked what he thought of western civilization, Mahatma Gandhi -- possibly the world's most overrated man prior to Mahatma 'Bama -- famously responded, "I think it would be a good idea." The story may be apocryphal because Gandhi shows no other evidence of wit, and because he actually thought western civilization was a bad idea, or at least not worth defending.

Arguing for the authenticity of the comment are a number of similarly inane remarks such as "An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind," "Nobody can hurt me without my permission," (which contradicts the first), and "Before the throne of the Almighty, man will be judged not by his acts but by his intentions" -- a sentiment liberals love, because it exonerates them of the evils produced by their imprudent intentions.

"Non-violence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man." Really? Maybe if you're lucky enough to be dealing with a civilized western nation such as Great Britain.

But then Gandhi advised the Brits to allow Nazi Germany to "take possession of your beautiful island with your many beautiful buildings," addressed Hitler as "friend," and urged the Jews to passively consent to his genocide.

What do I think of Hindu civilization? I think it would be a good idea.

Which sounds snarky, intolerant, and even malevolent, doesn't it? We are permitted to say such things of western civilization, but not of pre-, or un- or anti-civilization. In fact, we are not even permitted to notice that some cultures are more civilized than others, which is only a recipe for rebarbarization.

Which raises the question: what is civilization? Over the weekend I read a not-raccoomended book on the subject, Metaphysics: The Creation of Hierarchy.

Why not raccoomended? Mainly because it is written in the ponderous manner of the tenured. Pabst is one of those Christian thinkers who seems to think that if only he expresses himself as pretentiously as a Heidegger or Hegel, then the right people will take him seriously. But they won't, so why bother?

In his defense, the book is based on his doctoral dissertation, and I do understand why one would want to imitate the style of the academic threshold guardians -- the tenured gargoyles who hold your fate in their grubby hands. It's like physicians who learn in medical school how to write prescriptions in an indecipherable hand, or politicians who learn how to bloviate around a question.

In fact, this mystagogic skill is absolutely essential to the cult of liberalism and to the faux expertise of the experts who presume to rule our lives (where would Obama be without it?).

But there is no humanly important thought that can't be expressed in a straightforward manner. To the extent that difficulties remain, it is in the nature of the subject, but most subjects Aren't Like That.

Rather, the things humans need to know in order to flourish qua humans are widely accessible. One of the perennial problems with liberalism is that if it is expressed in a straightforward manner, normal people recoil from it. Hence the obfuscation, dissembling, and tortured rationalization (except when they are speaking to one another and the mask can come off).

Despite the hamhandededness of its prose, we were nevertheless able to distill a few gnuggets from the book. Or at least we'll try, goddammit, we'll try.

You're welcome.

Pabst says something on page 100 that (almost) perfectly expresses the Raccoon metaphysic: "To discover divine sapentia at the heart of the cosmos and the self is to discover the integral and ecstatic openness and direction of all that is to God."

You see the problem? Why "sapentia"? Why not just divine wisdom? If I were to rewrite it in my own manner, it would go something like this: In discovering the divine wisdom that beats in the heart of the living cosmos and courses through the arteries of the Self, we simultaneously discover the ecstatic openness to God of all that exists, and with it, the integral movement of creation back to Creator.

The book (which is part of a series) has the noble goal of forging a post-postmodern and postliberal metaphysic capable of making total sense of our cosmic situation. The editors of the series begin with an observation by Flannery O'Connor, that "If you live today, you breathe in nihilism." Quite true, and only more so today.

Now, "pneuma" of course means spirit and breath. There is biological re-spiration and there is spiritual re-spiration. And in either case, if the atmosphere is polluted, we will nevertheless keep breathing. What happens to someone who is running out of oxygen in an enclosed space? If we could conduct an autopsy of a person's spirtual lungs, what would we find? Would they be all black, like a smoker's?

Here is another unhelpful comment -- or a helpful one expressed in an unhelpful manner:

"Hierarchy and anagogy describe the ascending movement whose original, reverse movement is kenosis in the divine humanity of Jesus Christ. In this manner, the 'in between' of Christian metaphysics can perhaps be depicted as a spiral paradox whereby individual substances are individuated relationally by participating in the substantive relationality of the triune God."

Yes, perhaps. Why not just say (↓) and (↑)? Our inspiration is God's expiration in the orthoparadoxical spiroid movement of cosmotheosis.

Out of time. To be continued...

10 Comments:

Blogger julie said...

Despite the hamhandededness of its prose, we were nevertheless able to distill a few gnuggets from the book. Or at least we'll try, goddammit, we'll try.

:D

And truly, we are grateful!

6/09/2014 09:43:00 AM  
Blogger Paul Griffin said...

Given the atmosphere we walk in, this particular piece of the liturgy (from the collect for purity) has become something of a lifeline for me:

...Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name...

What a beautiful phrase! We abide in His presence, we breathe in His Spirit, and we are cleansed. I meditate on the words frequently, and never cease to be encouraged, even in the midst of the foul, polluted spiritual air that surrounds us. What a breath of fresh air!

6/09/2014 09:44:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

Fill your tanks with the Spirit before diving into the black lagoon.

I've always had the same problem with Ghandi's non-violence. It works great on people with a Christian conscience. Fascists, communists, Islamic militants, and other savages, maybe not so well.

It's also fine for me to voluntarily decide to turn the other cheek and suffer violence. I don't think I have the right to make that decision for anybody else. I think violence in the defense of the oppressed, the abused, and the innocent is acceptable.

Plus, I confess that while I believe in turning the other cheek in theory, in practice, I might fall short. Just something to keep in mind for those inclined to smite.

6/09/2014 02:37:00 PM  
Blogger Jack said...

I just started rereading "Summa Philosophica" by Peter Kreeft. Talk about clarity!

And a highly compressed--though not dense--form of clarity at that. Yes, it might lack poetry, but I'll take that over the tortured sentences of the tenuristas any day.

6/09/2014 04:54:00 PM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

" "Before the throne of the Almighty, man will be judged not by his acts but by his intentions""

I wonder what the fellow who shot Ghandi intended?

"What do I think of Hindu civilization? I think it would be a good idea."

Amen.

6/09/2014 07:53:00 PM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

"Rather, the things humans need to know in order to flourish qua humans are widely accessible. One of the perennial problems with liberalism is that if it is expressed in a straightforward manner, normal people recoil from it. Hence the obfuscation, dissembling, and tortured rationalization (except when they are speaking to one another and the mask can come off)."

Yep. And key to their method is to focus as narrowly as possible upon one aspect, so that the entire context is lost. Not just missing the forest for the trees, but the trees for the bark your face is being flattened up against.

I finally got around to begin reading a book last night called "After Virtue", by Allastair MacIntyre, which is looking like one I'm really going to enjoy. A very thorough, and fair (which is not to imply soft), examination of Modern Philosophy and what, why and how it went wrong. I opened it up to about a quarter of the way through and began reading the essay 'Why the Enlightenment Project Had to Fail', which is digging into how and why the modernists fell apart ethically, and this section, looking at the modern 'Is vs Ought' boobytrap got a number of underlines:

"Thus we may safely assert that, if some amended version of the 'No "ought" conclusion from "is" premises' principle is to hold good, it must exclude arguments involving functional concepts from its scope. But this suggests strongly that those who have insisted that all moral arguments fall within the scope of such a principle may have been doing so, because they took it for granted that no moral arguments involve functional concepts. Yet moral arguments within the classical, Aristotelian tradition - whether in its Greek or its medieval versions - involve at least one central functional concept, the concept of man understood as having an essential nature and an essential purpose or function; and it is when and only when the classical tradition in its integrity has been substantially rejected that moral arguments change their "ought" conclusion from "is" premises' principle. that is to say, 'man' stands to 'good man' as 'watch' stands to 'good watch' or 'farmer' to 'good farmer' within the classical tradition....
... For according to that tradition to be a man is to fill a set of roles each of which has its own point and purpose: member of a family, citizen, soldier, philosopher, servant of God. It is only when man is thought of as an individual prior to and apart from all roles that 'man' ceases to be a functional concept."

6/09/2014 08:04:00 PM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

... you can be nearly certain that if you ever find yourself having trouble responding to a leftist attack, check your teeth - you'll probably find its full of bark. Pull back, take in the tree they tried to prevent you from seeing, and you'll soon see the trees as well, and then the forest will come into focus, and you'll see them huddled on the edge of their precipice, scared to death that you'll notice how close they are to falling.

Context. Gotta hold on to it.

6/09/2014 08:10:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Personally, I think pacifism is inherently evil.
Particularly Ghandi's type.

I mean, it's one thing not to defend ones self but to not defend the lives, liberty or goodness of others (when one can) is cowardly, craven and satanic.

Ghandi was even worse than this, because he encouraged life and liberty loving people to happily be raped, tortured and murdered by fascists and communists.

Ghandi encouraged evil and didn't think the true, good and beautiful was worth defending.
Plus, like today's leftists he preened about as if he was morally superior rather than the immoral, smug, cowardly prig he actually was.

Jesus taught that the greatest love of all was to give one's life to protect one's friends and loved ones...as he had done...even for strangers.

Totally the opposite of what Ghandi taught.
Really pisses me off when some idiot on the left attempts to compare an infrahuman like Ghandi to Jesus.

6/10/2014 12:42:00 AM  
Blogger ted said...

Van, "After Virtue" is a masterpiece. I will need to revisit it someday, although MacIntyre has some Marxist residual on his sleeve. Reading an amazing essay by Michael Oakeshott right now, "Rationalism in Politics". It was recommended by David Brooks recently, and I have to say it is full of insights in its brevity.

6/10/2014 08:52:00 AM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

Ted, the edition I have is the one re-published after 26 years, and in the updated, I think preface, he mentions still being appreciative for the insights he got from Marx, so that was one of the things that got me to take it home from the bookstore; that someone who seemed to have a solid understanding of and an admirer of Aristotle and Aquinas, could somehow find something in that pit to admire.

I'm very curious to see what that is.

6/10/2014 06:09:00 PM  

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