If I vote for Biden, I will be complicit in abortions on a mass scale.
If I vote for Trump, I will be complicit in cementing a worldview in which the ends justify the means, power replaces truth, and thus the very truths by which we define and understand ourselves as human are at stake.
Here’s your semi-regular reminder: You don’t have to be there. You can quit Twitter and Facebook and never go back.
Alan Jacobs, “it’s time,” Snakes and Ladders (Oct. 28, 2020) [link].
but it is also the best of times:
There have been many men on the court who seemed deep and were celebrated for their scholarly musings but were essentially, as individuals and in their conception of life, immature. But this is not a child, a sentimentalist, an ideological warrior. This is a thinker who thinks about reality.
Peggy Noonan, “Everyone Has Gone Crazy in Washington,” The Wall Street Journal (Oct. 15, 2020) [link].
Sad tales are generally accepted, but when you share joy it is likely that someone somewhere might be hurt by it, especially in a year marked by such sweeping stress. We are all secretly afraid that there might not be enough happiness to go around, and that we will perpetually be that kid that gets left behind.
Sarah Willard, “Reader, I Married Him,” Blind Mule Blog (Oct. 27, 2020) [link].
and indeed, it is like all times:
And all shall be well and All manner of thing shall be well When the tongues of flames are in-folded Into the crowned knot of fire And the fire and the rose are one
T.S. Eliot, “Little Gidding,” The Four Quartets [link].
It is not how we vote, or what we read, or who we support or oppose, or even how well we love. We live in a comedy, not a tragedy, for there is One to rescue us from ourselves.
There is One who does good, and the world is certainly in his hand. He will judge and he will redeem.
Christ has no body but yours, No hands, no feet on earth but yours, Yours are the eyes with which he looks Compassion on this world, Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good, Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, Yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now but yours, No hands, no feet on earth but yours, Yours are the eyes with which he looks compassion on this world. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
It is always terribly hard to be sure exactly what happened, but it is easy to collect opinions.
Dieu a établi la prière pour communiquer à ses ceatures la dignité de la causalité. Pascal
The Bible says Sennacherib’s campaign was foiled By angels: in Herodotus it says, by mice— Innumerably nibbling all one night they toiled To eat away his bowstrings as warm wind eats ice.
But muscular archangels, I suggest, employed Seven little jaws to labour at each slender string, And by their aid, weak masters though they be, destroyed The smiling-lipped Assyrian, cruel bearded king.
No stranger that omnipotence should choose to need Small helps than great—no stranger if His action lingers Till men have prayed, and suffers their weak prayers indeed To move as very muscles in his delaying fingers,
Who, in His longanimity and love for our Small dignities, enfeebles, for a time, His power.
C.S. Lewis, “Sonnet” (Oxford Magazine, May 14, 1936) [link]
The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold, And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold; And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea, When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee.
Like the leaves of the forest when Summer is green, That host with their banners at sunset were seen: Like the leaves of the forest when Autumn hath blown, That host on the morrow lay withered and strown.
For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast, And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed; And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill, And their hearts but once heaved, and for ever grew still!
And there lay the steed with his nostril all wide, But through it there rolled not the breath of his pride; And the foam of his gasping lay white on the turf, And cold as the spray of the rock-beating surf.
And there lay the rider distorted and pale, With the dew on his brow, and the rust on his mail: And the tents were all silent, the banners alone, The lances unlifted, the trumpet unblown.
And the widows of Ashur are loud in their wail, And the idols are broke in the temple of Baal; And the might of the Gentile, unsmote by the sword, Hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord!
Lord Byron, “The Destruction of Sennacherib” [link].
The next king was the priest of Hephaestus whose name was Sethos. He despised and had no regard for the warrior Egyptians, thinking he would never need them; besides otherwise dishonoring them, he took away the chosen lands which had been given to them, twelve fields to each man, in the reign of former kings. So when presently king Sanacharib came against Egypt, with a great force of Arabians and Assyrians, the warrior Egyptians would not march against him.
The priest, in this quandary, went into the temple shrine and there before the god’s image bitterly lamented over what he expected to suffer. Sleep came on him while he was lamenting, and it seemed to him the god stood over him and told him to take heart, that he would come to no harm encountering the power of Arabia: “I shall send you champions,” said the god.
So he trusted the vision, and together with those Egyptians who would follow him camped at Pelusium, where the road comes into Egypt; and none of the warriors would go with him, but only merchants and craftsmen and traders. Their enemies came there, too, and during the night were overrun by a horde of field mice that gnawed quivers and bows and the handles of shields, with the result that many were killed fleeing unarmed the next day.
And to this day a stone statue of the Egyptian king stands in Hephaestus’ temple, with a mouse in his hand, and an inscription to this effect:
“Look at me, and believe.”
Herodotus, Histories, II, 141, 1-6 (tr. A.D. Godley) [link].
[The Lord says] “I will shield this city [Jerusalem] and rescue it for the sake of my reputation and because of my promise to David my servant.” That very night the Lord’s messenger went out and killed 185,000 men in the Assyrian camp. When they got up early the next morning, there were all the corpses. So King Sennacherib of Assyria broke camp and went on his way. He went home and stayed in Nineveh.
A couple of syllabi* from two well-known instructors.
More discussion at Dan Piepenbring, “W. H. Auden’s Potent Syllabus, and Other News” The Paris Review (Jan. 29, 2015) [link]; “W.H. Auden’s 1941 Literature Syllabus Asks Students to Read 32 Great Works, Covering 6000 Pages,” Open Culture (Feb. 28, 2013) [link]; Alan Jacobs, “Auden’s Syllabus,” Snakes and Ladders (Oct. 1, 2012) [link]; and “David Foster Wallace’s 1994 Syllabus: How to Teach Serious Literature with Lightweight Books,” Open Culture (Feb. 25, 2013) [link].
I particularly enjoy Wallace’s caution to his students not to think “this will be a blow-off-type class.” Auden does not seem to think any of his students will make that mistake.
The less you know about a person, the easier it is to venerate them, which is why you generally don’t want your children writing your biography. My favorite parts of biographies are not the quotes from the person being written about, but rather from those who knew them well — or — too well.
It is also true that the less you know about a person the easier it is to demonize them, which probably goes for everyone we read about in the “news.”
Sarah Willard, “The Pilgrim Soul,” Blind Mule Blog (Oct. 17, 2018) [link] writes about dementia and memory:
It can be very hard when someone you love is losing their memory, not to lose yours too. It’s easy to only see who they are in the moment, and not who they are really, which includes who they have been and who they will be.
One anodyne for dementia is the shared memory of the ones who give care.
Gavriel Rosenfeld, “How Americans Described Evil before Hitler,” The Atlantic (Oct. 9, 2018) [link], raises the interesting question “Who was evil incarnate before Hitler?” and suggests some history lessons germane to our current discourse:
Our present moment is a tricky one: Some commentators feel more justified than ever in invoking Hitler, yet many feel a bit numb to the comparison. The solution, it seems to me, is not to ban comparisons to the Nazis—as if such a thing were possible—but to grant that analogies have always been a tendentious business, and that only the future can tell which ones were valid. Commentators should proceed with a little more humility, a little more circumspection, and, perhaps, a little more creativity.
From Søren Kierkegaard, via Alan Jacobs:
The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand we are obliged to act accordingly.
Alan Jacobs, Snakes and Ladders (May 6, 2013) [link].
This is a hyperbole, of course, but I often wonder how much we will eventually be shown that our careful exegesis was really carefully hidden eisegesis.
[He] thought, even if it was not true that he was a hero, perhaps it was true that he was not a criminal or a failure. The possibility existed for him that the past was mutable — that he might have a new truth, a new narrative that was truer than his own tortured memory. For the first time, he realized how subjective it all was and how the past was not as inviolable as he had come to believe.
Matthew Hefti, A Hard and Heavy Thing 207 (2016).
Now for you and me it may not be that hard to reach our dreams,
But that magic feeling never seems to last.
And while the future’s there for anyone to change, still you know it seems It would be easier sometimes to change the past.
Jackson Browne, ”Fountain of Sorrow,” Late for the Sky (1974).
Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past. If all time is eternally present All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
T.S. Eliot, “Burnt Norton” l. 1-10, Four Quartets (1943).