a man who fails to pursue self-knowledge is and remains a danger to society

A man who fails to pursue self-knowledge is and remains a danger to society, for he will tend to misunderstand everything that other people say or do, and remain blissfully unaware of the significance of many of the things he does himself.

E. F. Schumacher in A Guide for the Perplexed.

Top 50 Movies of 2010-2019 by Joshua Gibbs

(Not sure if he’ll publish this list elsewhere, but I’ve gleaned it from his Facebook page where he posted one by one.)

1: “The Grand Budapest Hotel” (2013), dir. Wes Anderson

1: “Eat Pray Love” (2010), dir. Ryan Murphy [a joke before the final reveal]

2: “The Master” (2012), dir. Paul Thomas Anderson

3: “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” (2011), dir. Tomas Alfredson

4: “The Tree of Life” (2011), dir. Terrence Malick

5: “Under The Skin” (2013), dir. Jonathan Glazer

6: “Blade Runner 2049” (2017), dir. Denis Villeneuve

7: “A Bigger Splash” (2015), dir. Luca Guadagnino

8: “Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood” (2019), dir. Quentin Tarantino

9: “Black Swan” (2010), dir. Darren Aronofsky

10: “The Social Network” (2010), dir. David Fincher

11: “Phantom Thread” (2017), dir. Paul Thomas Anderson

12: “First Reformed” (2017), dir. Paul Schrader

13: “The Fantastic Mr. Fox” (November 2009), dir. Wes Anderson

14: “Enemy” (2013), dir. Denis Villeneuve

15: “Ida” (2013), dir. Pawel Pawlikowski

16: “It Follows” (2014), dir. David Robert Mitchell

17: “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” (2017), dir. Yorgos Lanthimos

18: “Arrival” (2016), dr. Denis Villeneuve

19: “Frances Ha” (2012), dir. Noah Baumbach

20: “Dunkirk” (2017), dir. Christopher Nolan

21: “Lady Bird” (2017), dir. Greta Gerwig

22: “Prometheus” (2012), dir. Ridley Scott

23: “The Lobster” (2015), dir. Yorgos Lanthimos

24: “The Witch” (2015), dir. Robert Eggers

25: “Inside Llewyn Davis” (2013), dir. The Coen Brothers

26: “Melancholia” (2011), dir. Lars von Trier

27: “Somewhere” (2010), dir. Sofia Coppola

28: “Gravity” (2013), dir. Alfonso Cuarón

29: “The Revenant” (2015), dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu

30: “Juliet Naked” (2018), dir. Jesse Peretz

31: “Nightcrawler” (2014), dir. Dan Gilroy

32: “We Need To Talk About Kevin” (2011), dir. Lynne Ramsay

33: “Skyfall” (2012), dir. Sam Mendes

34: “Carol” (2015), dir. Todd Haynes

35: “Prisoners” (2013), dir. Denis Villeneuve

36: “Barbara” (2012), dir. Christian Petzold

37: “12 Years A Slave” (2013), dir. Steve McQueen

38: “The Meyerowitz Stories” (2017), dir. Noah Baumbach

39: “Moonrise Kingdom” (2012), dir. Wes Anderson

40: “Deathly Hallows Part I” (2010), dir. David Yates

41: “Never Let Me Go” (2010), dir. Mark Romanek

42: “While We’re Young” (2015), dir. Noah Baumbach

43: “Locke” (2013), dir. Steven Knight

44: “Paterson” (2016), dir. Jim Jarmusch

45: “Inception” (2010), dir. Christopher Nolan

46: “Drive” (2011), dir. Nicolas Winding Refn

47: “The Favourite” (2018), dir. Yorgos Lanthimos

48: “Sicario” (2015), dir. Denis Villeneuve

49: “Force Majeure” (2014), dir. Ruben Östlund

50: “The Beguiled” (2017), dir. Sofia Coppola

the book is generally written by the one man in the village who is mad

It is quite easy to see why a legend is treated, and ought to be treated, more respectfully than a book of history. The legend is generally made by a majority of the people in the village, who are sane. The book is generally written by the one man in the village who is mad.

G. K. Chesterton in Orthodoxy.

we distant children of the pagans would not be able to believe in any of these things

Modernity is what comes …when Christianity has been displaced from the center of a culture and deprived of any power explicitly to shape laws and customs, and has ceased to be regarded as the source of a society’s highest values or of a government’s legitimacy, and has ceased even to hold preeminent sway over a people’s collective imagination. …Modernity is not simply a “postreligious” condition; it is the state of a society that has been specifically a Christian society. …The ethical presuppositions intrinsic to modernity, for instance, are palliated fragments and haunting echoes of Christian moral theology. Even the most ardent secularists among us generally cling to notions of human rights, economic and social justice, providence for the indigent, legal equality, or basic human dignity that pre-Christian Western culture would have found not so much foolish as unintelligible. It is simply the case that we distant children of the pagans would not be able to believe in any of these things—they would never have occurred to us—had our ancestors not once believed that God is love, that charity is the foundation of all virtues, that all of us are equal before the eyes of God, that to fail to feed the hungry or care for the suffering is to sin against Christ, and that Christ laid down his life for the least of his brethren.

From David Bentley Hart’s Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies (2009). Recalls Fr. Stephen Freeman and others who say thatCharles, helpful. Thank you. This question brings to mind a claim that modernity is best understood specifically as a heretical distortion of Christianity. Also brings to mind this point by Charles Taylor that “the process of disenchantment is irreversible” (and Lewis describing post-Christian culture at the bottom of this post).

all these beliefs rest securely upon a more fundamental and radical faith in the nothing

David Bentley Hart’s Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies (2009) lakes up a theme that he’s gone much farther with in recent articles:

Those of us who now, in the latter days of modernity, are truest to the wisdom and ethos of our age place ourselves not at the disposal of God, or the gods, or the Good, but before an abyss, over which presides the empty power of our isolated wills, whose decisions are their own moral index. This is what it means to have become perfect consumers: the original nothingness of the will gives itself shape by the use it makes of the nothingness of the world—and thus we are free.

Earlier in this same chapter of Atheist Delusions, Hart put it this way:

To be entirely modern (which very few of us are) is to believe in nothing. This is not to say it is to have no beliefs: the truly modern person may believe in almost anything, or even perhaps in everything, so long as all these beliefs rest securely upon a more fundamental and radical faith in the nothing—or, better, in nothingness as such. Modernity’s highest ideal—its special understanding of personal autonomy—requires us to place our trust in an original absence underlying all of reality, a fertile void in which all things are possible, from which arises no impediment to our wills, and before which we may consequently choose to make of ourselves what we choose.

David Bentley Hart picks up this theme again years later in The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss (2013):

Late modern society is principally concerned with purchasing things, in ever greater abundance and variety, and so has to strive to fabricate an ever greater number of desires to gratify, and to abolish as many limits and prohibitions upon desire as it can. Such a society is already implicitly atheist and so must slowly but relentlessly apply itself to the dissolution of transcendent values. It cannot allow ultimate goods to distract us from proximate goods. Our sacred writ is advertising, our piety is shopping, our highest devotion is private choice. God and the soul too often hinder the purely acquisitive longings upon which the market depends, and confront us with values that stand in stark rivalry to the only truly substantial value at the center of the social universe: the price tag.

our bodies think and know in ways that precede cognition

In Landmarks, Robert Macfarlane gives a gripping account of knowing with our bodies (in comparing the writings of French philosopher Merleau-Ponty and Scottish writer Nan Shepherd).

[Merleau-Ponty] argued that knowledge is ‘felt’: that our bodies think and know in ways that precede cognition. Consciousness, the human body and the phenomenal world are therefore inextricably intertwined. The body ‘incarnates’ our subjectivity and we are thus, Merleau-Ponty proposed, ‘embedded’ in the ‘flesh’ of the world. He described this embodied experience as ‘knowledge in the hands’; our body ‘grips’ the world for us and is ‘our general medium for having a world.’ And the material world itself is therefore not the unchanging object presented by the natural sciences, but instead endlessly relational. We are co-natural with the world and it with us–but we only ever see it partially.

…‘Place and mind may interpenetrate until the nature of both are altered. I cannot tell what this movement is except by recounting it.’ ‘The body is not … negligible, but paramount,’ she elsewhere declares, in a passage that could have come straight from Phenomenology of Perception. ‘Flesh is not annihilated but fulfilled. One is not bodiless, but essential body.’

…‘This is the innocence we have lost,’ she says, ‘living in one sense at a time to live all the way through.’ Her book is a hymn to ‘living all the way through’: to touching, tasting, smelling and hearing the world. If you manage this, then you might walk ‘out of the body and into the mountain’, such that you become, briefly, ‘a stone … the soil of the earth’. And at that point then, well, then ‘one has been in’. ‘That is all,’ writes Shepherd, and that ‘all’ should be heard not diminutively, apologetically, but expansively, vastly.

this connection between the universal and the parochial

In Landmarks, Robert Macfarlane has much to offer regarding the connectedness of place and language. Patrick Kavanagh’s insight that the local parish is our only access point to Aristotelian universals is profound (see last excerpt in this post). To share a frustration, Macfarlane’s claims often exaggerate the powers of language alone to tie our hearts to the land and to enable us to hear the voices of the earth and water forms with which we live. It seems to me that this kind of attention and love cannot be separated from the norm of lifetimes spent in faithfulness to a particular place across generations. His collection of writers devoted to places and their peoples, however, is a powerful beacon amid the storms of modernity.

The terrain beyond the city fringe has become progressively more understood in terms of large generic units (‘ field’, ‘hill’, ‘valley’, ‘wood’). It has become a blandscape. We are blasé about place, in the sense that Georg Simmel used that word in his 1903 essay ‘The Metropolis and Mental Life’–meaning indifferent to the distinction between things. It is not, on the whole, that natural phenomena and entities themselves are disappearing; rather that there are fewer people able to name them, and that once they go unnamed they go to some degree unseen. Language deficit leads to attention deficit. As we further deplete our ability to name, describe and figure particular aspects of our places, our competence for understanding and imagining possible relationships with non-human nature is correspondingly depleted. The ethno-linguist K. David Harrison bleakly declares that language death means the loss of ‘long-cultivated knowledge that has guided human–environment interaction for millennia …accumulated wisdom and observations of generations of people about the natural world, plants, animals, weather, soil. The loss [is] incalculable, the knowledge mostly unrecoverable.’

…[Basso, author of Wisdom Sits in Places (1996)] became especially interested in the interconnections of story, place-name, historical sense and the ethical relationships of person to person and person to place. Early in the book, Basso despatches what he calls the ‘widely accepted’ fallacy in anthropology that place-names operate only as referents. …The Apache understand how powerfully language constructs the human relation to place, and as such they possess, Basso writes, ‘a modest capacity for wonder and delight at the large tasks that small words can be made to perform’. In their imagination geography and history are consubstantial. Placeless events are inconceivable, in that everything that happens must happen somewhere.

…For Weber, disenchantment was a function of the rise of rationalism, which demanded the extirpation of dissenting knowledge-kinds in favour of a single master-principle. It found its expressions not just in human behaviour and policy–including the general impulse to control nature–but also in emotional response. Weber noted the widespread reduction of ‘wonder’ (for him the hallmark of enchantment, and in which state we are comfortable with not-knowing) and the corresponding expansion of ‘will’ (for him the hallmark of disenchantment, and in which state we are avid for authority). In modernity, mastery usurped mystery. Our language for nature is now such that the things around us do not talk back to us in ways that they might. As we have enhanced our power to determine nature, so we have rendered it less able to converse with us. We find it hard to imagine nature outside a use-value framework. We have become experts in analysing what nature can do for us, but lack a language to evoke what it can do to us. The former is important; the latter is vital. Martin Heidegger identified a version of this trend in 1954, observing that the rise of technology and the technological imagination had converted what he called ‘the whole universe of beings’ into an undifferentiated ‘standing reserve’ (Bestand) of energy, available for any use to which humans choose to put it. The rise of ‘standing reserve’ as a concept has bequeathed to us an inadequate and unsatisfying relationship with the natural world, and with ourselves too, because we have to encounter ourselves and our thoughts as mysteries before we encounter them as service providers. We require things to have their own lives if they are to enrich ours.

…Patrick Kavanagh (1904–67), the great poet of the Irish mundane, was sure of the parish’s importance. For Kavanagh, the parish was not a perimeter but an aperture: a space through which the world could be seen. ‘Parochialism is universal,’ he wrote. ‘It deals with the fundamentals.’ Kavanagh, like Aristotle, was careful not to smudge the ‘universal’ into the ‘general’. The ‘general’, for Aristotle, was the broad, the vague and the undiscerned. The ‘universal’, by contrast, consisted of fine-tuned principles, induced from an intense concentration on the particular. Kavanagh often returned to this connection between the universal and the parochial, and to the idea that we learn by scrutiny of the close-at-hand. ‘All great civilisations are based on parochialism,’ he wrote:

To know fully even one field or one land is a lifetime’s experience. In the world of poetic experience it is depth that counts, not width. A gap in a hedge, a smooth rock surfacing a narrow lane, a view of a woody meadow, the stream at the junction of four small fields–these are as much as a man can fully experience.

words belong to each other

Words survive the chops and changes of time longer than any other substance, therefore they are the truest.

…The moment we single out and emphasize the suggestions as we have done here they become unreal; and we, too, become unreal — specialists, word mongers, phrase finders, not readers. In reading we have to allow the sunken meanings to remain sunken, suggested, not stated; lapsing and flowing into each other like reeds on the bed of a river.

…Words, English words, are full of echoes, of memories, of associations — naturally. They have been out and about, on people’s lips, in their houses, in the streets, in the fields, for so many centuries. And that is one of the chief difficulties in writing them today — that they are so stored with meanings, with memories, that they have contracted so many famous marriages. …A word is not a single and separate entity, but part of other words. It is not a word indeed until it is part of a sentence. Words belong to each other, although, of course, only a great writer knows that the word “incarnadine” belongs to “multitudinous seas.”

…Think what it would mean if you could teach, if you could learn, the art of writing. Why, every book, every newspaper would tell the truth, would create beauty. But there is, it would appear, some obstacle in the way, some hindrance to the teaching of words. For though at this moment at least a hundred professors are lecturing upon the literature of the past, at least a thousand critics are reviewing the literature of the present, and hundreds upon hundreds of young men and women are passing examinations in English literature with the utmost credit, still — do we write better, do we read better than we read and wrote four hundred years ago when we were unlectured, uncriticized, untaught? Is our Georgian literature a patch on the Elizabethan? Where then are we to lay the blame? Not on our professors; not on our reviewers; not on our writers; but on words. It is words that are to blame. They are the wildest, freest, most irresponsible, most unteachable of all things. Of course, you can catch them and sort them and place them in alphabetical order in dictionaries. But words do not live in dictionaries; they live in the mind. If you want proof of this, consider how often in moments of emotion when we most need words we find none. Yet there is the dictionary; there at our disposal are some half-a-million words all in alphabetical order. But can we use them? No, because words do not live in dictionaries, they live in the mind. Look again at the dictionary. There beyond a doubt lie plays more splendid than ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA; poems more lovely than the Ode to a Nightingale; novels beside which Pride and Prejudice or David Copperfield are the crude bunglings of amateurs. It is only a question of finding the right words and putting them in the right order. But we cannot do it because they do not live in dictionaries; they live in the mind. And how do they live in the mind? Variously and strangely, much as human beings live, by ranging hither and thither, by falling in love, and mating together. It is true that they are much less bound by ceremony and convention than we are. Royal words mate with commoners. English words marry French words, German words, Indian words, Negro words, if they have a fancy. Indeed, the less we enquire into the past of our dear Mother English the better it will be for that lady’s reputation. For she has gone a-roving, a-roving fair maid.

Thus to lay down any laws for such irreclaimable vagabonds is worse than useless. A few trifling rules of grammar and spelling are all the constraint we can put on them. All we can say about them, as we peer at them over the edge of that deep, dark and only fitfully illuminated cavern in which they live — the mind — all we can say about them is that they seem to like people to think and to feel before they use them, but to think and to feel not about them, but about something different. They are highly sensitive, easily made self-conscious. They do not like to have their purity or their impurity discussed. If you start a Society for Pure English, they will show their resentment by starting another for impure English — hence the unnatural violence of much modern speech; it is a protest against the puritans. They are highly democratic, too; they believe that one word is as good as another; uneducated words are as good as educated words, uncultivated words as cultivated words, there are no ranks or titles in their society. Nor do they like being lifted out on the point of a pen and examined separately. They hang together, in sentences, in paragraphs, sometimes for whole pages at a time. They hate being useful; they hate making money; they hate being lectured about in public. In short, they hate anything that stamps them with one meaning or confines them to one attitude, for it is their nature to change.

…And it is because of this complexity that they survive. Perhaps then one reason why we have no great poet, novelist or critic writing to-day is that we refuse words their liberty. We pin them down to one meaning, their useful meaning, the meaning which makes us catch the train, the meaning which makes us pass the examination. And when words are pinned down they fold their wings and die. Finally, and most emphatically, words, like ourselves, in order to live at their ease, need privacy. Undoubtedly they like us to think, and they like us to feel, before we use them; but they also like us to pause; to become unconscious. Our unconsciousness is their privacy; our darkness is their light. …That pause was made, that veil of darkness was dropped, to tempt words to come together in one of those swift marriages which are perfect images and create everlasting beauty. But no — nothing of that sort is going to happen to-night. The little wretches are out of temper; disobliging; disobedient; dumb. What is it that they are muttering? “Time’s up! Silence!”

On April 29, 1937, as part of their Words Fail Me series, BBC broadcast a segment that survives as the only recorded voice of Virginia Woolf. This lecture was eventually edited and published in The Death of the Moth and Other Essays in 1942, a year after Woolf’s death, with the title “Craftsmanship.”

I sat up late last night and have read the Geste as far as to where Beren and his gnomish allies defeat the patrol of orcs above the sources of the Narog

I sat up late last night and have read the Geste as far as to where Beren and his gnomish allies defeat the patrol of orcs above the sources of the Narog and disguise themselves in the reaf,” an Anglo-Saxon term for clothing and weapons taken from the dead. “I can quite honestly say that it is ages since I have had an evening of such delight.

CSL to JRRT, December 8, 1929, in The Lays of Beleriand, pp. 150-151.

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