Thursday, May 30, 2019

Reading by Phone

Earlier in the year, I saw started to see persons standing, looking at their phones during the Gospel reading at St. Matthew's. After the first astonishment, it occurred to me that they were probably following the reading, from an app or a website that gives the readings of the day. Now, I think that the official view is that one should listen rather than read during Mass. However, there can be bad acoustics, soft or heavily accented voices, leaf-blowers or other machinery outside, and other reasons one can't follow by ear. And the Worship (hymnal plus missal) in the pews gives the text of the readings for Sundays, feasts, and holy days only. (In any case, it weighs a good deal more than a mobile phone.) So, odd though it looks, I can understand why someone would do this.

Today I chanced to see someone kneeling in a pew and and looking at her phone. The text was far too small to be read from my distance, but there was at least one illuminated capital. Apparently some in fact do their devotional reading on the phone.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

So Many Confessions

The other week I wished to quote a passage from St. Augustine's Confessions. I copied it out of Garry Wills's translation, but then wondered whether "semaphorings" was really the word I wanted. A Catholic store on K St. had no copies, but Kramerbooks at Dupont Circle had several translations: Wills's, Boulding's,  and Pine-Coffin's. I settled on Boulding. This week in addition they have Ruden's and Constantine's translations. I'd have been curious to see Frank Sheed's translation, but that Kramer's did not have.

The holdings in philosophy and religion are not especialy deep at Kramerbooks, it seems to me.Why it should have so many versions of the Confessions, I don't know.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Reading Emile

Somewhere in Book V of Emile: Or, on Education, I found myself remembering an obiter dictum of W.M. Spackman's from The Decline of Criticism:
Historically, the poème en prose is one of those accidents of French rhetoric, like Bossuet and Chateaubriand, that the French take to be literature.
But all things end, even a first reading of Emile.

In the preface to his translation, Allan Bloom wrote that Kant thought the appearance of Emile as remarkable an event as the French Revolution. I find that astonishing, given that Kant's pedagogical methods were hardly that of the narrator, that Kant lectured (it is said) splendidly on London Bridge without ever having been west of East Prussia. I suppose that a message of liberation from constraint particularly appealed to those who had grown up under French etiquette or Prussian schoolmasters.

A part of Rousseau's program, making the direct connection between experience and learning, is unexceptionable, and needs to be repeated constantly, for it is constantly forgotten. Yet he carries it beyond reason. When Emile is learning to smelt metals or turn spindles, I think of Samuel Johnson on Peter the Great's time as a shipwright--it makes no sense. Still the notion persists into Thoreau and beyond. Thoreau knew a great deal about the practical life, was a good surveyor and worked in the family's pencil factory, but even so could write in Walden
Which would have advanced the most at the end of a month, -- the boy who had made his own jackknife from the ore which he had dug and smelted, reading as much as would be necessary for this -- or the boy who had attended the lectures on metallurgy at the Institute in the meantime and had received a Rogers' penknife from his father? Which would be most likely to cut his fingers?
 (I vote for the second boy--there is more likely to be an edge on his knife.)

The anti-feminism of Book V is amusing in its way. The passage
All these women of great talent never impress anyone but fools. It is always known who the artist or the friend is who holds the pen or the brush when they work. It is known who the discreet man of letters is who secretly dictates their oracles to them.
recalls a phrase in Nancy Mitford's introduction to her translation of  The Princess of Cleves:
this constantly recurring Branwellism of male critics
In the end, I agree with Wittgenstein on thought experiments. To argue for systems of education is well and good. To have managed a school and to report ones observations--as Samuel Johnson, John Dewey and others have done--is better.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Jean Vanier, RIP

A friend invited me to the "Heart of L'Arche" breakfast last Wednesday. That morning the newspapers carried obituaries of Jean Vanier, founder of L'Arche. The slides shown at the breakfast included one of Vanier with a resident of one of the local homes.

Vanier enlisted in the Royal Navy at the age of 13, resigned a commission in the Royal Canadian Navy at 21, and studied and taught philosophy before deciding that he was called to set up home in which those with intellectually disabilities might live with dignity. L'Arche is not an especially large organization--it houses about ten thousand person all told. What it does, it appears to do very well.

Vanier's career has resemblances to that of Leonard Cheshire: service in WW II,  followed after a while by the discovery of a charitable vocation. Like Vanier, Cheshire began with a couple of residents under his roof, and built from there.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Reading Cooper

A friend's email mentioned James Fenimore Cooper. Solemn in all things, I mentioned the views of D.H. Lawrence and Yvor Winters, but confessed that mostly I agreed with Mark Twain. It turned out that she had not been reading Lawrence or Winters, but thinking back to Daniel Day Lewis in The Last of the Mohicans. Even so, this reminded me that I had not read all of the Leatherstocking novels: I had to look at the Library of America entry to see that the one remaining was The Pathfinder. Over the fortnight just ended, I have read it.

I still agree with Twain, and still think Cooper wrote inferior Scott. However, I now suspect what I had not for fifty years, that Twain in middle age reacted against the interest and confidence with which he read Cooper when young. He might in another time and mood have written of the books in the manner of S.J. Perelman's "Cloudland Revisited" pieces. But Twain, I think, considered that he had been fooled, and took his revenge. The Pathfinder has a couple of the items that Twain complained about--the shooting match at Oswego, and the anchoring of a ship in undertow off ta lees shore along Lake Ontario.

Twain was probably ten or twelve when he first read Cooper. That seems to me about the best age for Cooper, when a boy has not developed a sense of the probable, or much interest in women. That is the age to identify with the Pathfinder, hiking off into the wilderness with Chingachook, and not with Jasper Western settled down with Mabel Dunham. That is also the age not to roll the eyes at the courting scenes.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

John Lukacs, RIP

The newspapers have just carried the obituaries of John Lukacs, historian and memoirist. He lived to be 95. In his youth he had been imprisoned by the Hungarian state, then allied with Germany, for disaffection, and perhaps for having a Jewish mother; he had sheltered from Allied air raids; he had deserted the Hungarian army and lived in hiding. He survived, and in the United States he flourished. The bibliography appended to the the collection Remembered Past runs to thirty-six page, the first six of books; and he published at least one book (The Future of History) after Remembered Past, six years after .

Those who have not read Lukacs would do well to start with Confessions of An Original Sinner or A Thread of Years. The Last European War (World War II before Japan entered) , and At the End of an Age are well worth reading. Budapest 1900 and Five Days in London are more narrowly focused; yet though I was never aware of an interest in Budapest at the turn of the last century, and would have said I had read enough books about 1940, I found them absorbing.

Lukacs had an excellent eye for the telling quotation--Confessions of an Original Sinner particularly shows this. His interests were broad, though Europe and North American interested him most. His judgments, to the extent I can judge them, seem generally sound. I don't really share his Anglophilia, but I believe I understand how one who lived through 1940 and 1941 in Central Europe--when England seemed a lone hope for Europe--might develop it.