Saturday, December 04, 2004 +

On Lionel Trilling, 2

Joseph Epstein repeats a vulgar error when he says of Lionel Trilling that “as his fame grew, his prose grew more mandarin, ponderous, and qualified, and his intellectual windup could be so elaborate that his actual pitch, disappointingly, often did not seem to have much on it”—vulgar not because of its reference to baseball (which Jacques Barzun loves—Trilling preferred fishing), but because it echoes the common notion that in late Trilling there is too much manner for the matter. Mr. Epstein is also mistaken in saying that Trilling had “philosophical ambitions.”

Lionel Trilling’s ambitions were almost entirely literary. Critics still do not know Trilling. When they do they will discover that the style of Beyond Culture and Sincerity and Authenticity embody in a happy way what he had to give as a critic. That Trilling was not, in his heart, a critic is perhaps another matter.

Notes 63

The Fall brought death to body, mind, spirit.

Possibly Patriotism (2004)

What . . . is the decent, reasonable attitude to adopt? Very simple: make the assumption, first, that America is imperialist. I do not suggest that you should be convinced that America is imperialist. I invite you to assume that it may be. . . .

Friday, December 03, 2004 +

JB: Possibly Music (1961)

Jacques Barzun, Introductary Remarks to a program of works produced at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center, given at the MacMillan Theater of Columbia University on May 9 and 10, 1961

What . . . is the decent, reasonable attitude to adopt? Very simple: make the assumption, first, that the old style—whatever it is—has exhausted its possibilities and can only offer repetition or trivial variations of the familiar masterpieces. I do not suggest that you should be convinced that your favorite music is obsolete. I invite you to assume that it may be. . . .

We are entitled to ask the old questions—do we find the substance rich, evocative, capable of subtlety and strength? Do we, after a while, recognize patterns to which we can respond, with our sense of balance, our sense of suspense and fulfillment, our sense of emotional and intellectual congruity? . . .

02004 12 03 +

Jimmy Wong, b. 3 December 1916

Thursday, December 02, 2004 +

Notes 62

If judgment is in the nature of things, then societies and not just persons are judged, and that judgment is on earth and not just in heaven; from which I surmise: Protestantism and not just the Renaissance is dead.

On the Blue Red States

“No man is a hypocrite in his pleasures.”
—Samuel Johnson

02004 12 02 +

Eleanor Flood Murphy, b. 2 December 1920

Wednesday, December 01, 2004 +

Circles for Zachary and Elisabeth


Circles for Advent and Christmas

I shall be posting some Java applets that many can't see. If you wish to see them, I advise getting the latest Java, and perhaps also Firefox.

Christian Carnival XLVI

02004 12 01 +

Charles de Foucauld shot and killed in Tamanrasset in 1916. Earlier in the day he wrote to his cousin Marie:

Our annihilation is the most powerful means we have to unite ourselves to Jesus and to save souls; that is what St. John of the Cross repeated in nearly every line. When one wishes to suffer and to love, one can. One does the most of what one tries the most to do. One feels that one suffers but one doesn’t always feel that one loves, and that is added suffering. But one knows that one wishes to love, and wishing to love is to love. One finds that one doesn’t love enough. That’s true. One will never love enough. But Almighty God who knows of what he has molded us and who loves us more than a mother loves her child has told us—and he does not lie—that he will not cast out those who come to him.
—Charles de Foucauld, Writings, selected with an introduction by Robert Ellsberg (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1999)

Tuesday, November 30, 2004 +

02004 11 30 +

Feast of St. Andrew

Etty Hillesum d. Auschwitz, 1943.


From Dorothy L. Sayers, The Mind of the Maker, “Postscript: The Worth of the Work”

The activity of creation is a primary human need. . . . A human need . . . is not necessarily the same thing as a public demand. . . . It is a short and sordid view of life that will do injury to the work in the kind hope of satisfying a public demand; for the seed of corruption introduced into the work will take root in those who receive it, and in due season bring forth its fearful harvest.

That the eyes of all workers should behold the integrity of the work is the sole means to make that work good in itself and so good for mankind. This is only another way of saying that the work must be measured by the standard of eternity; or that it must be done for God first and foremost; or that the Energy must faithfully manifest forth the Idea; or, theologically, that the Son does the will of the Father.


From Dorothy L. Sayers, The Mind of the Maker, “XI. Problem Picture”

[Quoting, L. P. Jacks, Stevenson Lectures, 1926–7]

Like “happiness,”. . . “problem” and “solution” are not found in the Bible—a point which gives to that wonderful literature a singular charm and cogency. . . . Let the valiant citizen never be ashamed to confess that he has no “solution of the social problem” to offer to his fellow-men. Let him offer them rather the service of his skill, his vigilance, his fortitude and his probity. For the matter in question is not, primarily, a “problem,” nor the answer to it a “solution.”

If we conclude that creative mind is in fact the very grain of the spiritual universe . . . we cannot stop our investigations with the man who happens to work in stone, or paint, or music, or letters. We shall have to ask ourselves whether the same pattern is not also exhibited in the spiritual structure of every man and woman. And, if it is, whether, by confining the average man and woman to uncreative activities and an uncreative outlook, we are not doing violence to the very structure of our being. . . .

The words “problem” and “solution,” as commonly used, belong to the analytic approach to phenomena, and not to the creative. . . .

Human situations are subject to the law of human nature, whose evil is at all times rooted in its good, and whose good can only redeem, but not abolish its evil. The good that emerges from a conflict of values cannot arise from the total condemnation or destruction of one set of values, but only from the building of a new value, sustained, like an arch, by the tension of the original two. We do not, that is, merely examine the data to disentangle something that was in them already: we use them to construct something that was not there before: neither circumcision nor uncircumcision, but a new creature. . . .

[Quoting A. D. Lindsay, The Two Moralities]

In the morality of my stations and duties [i.e. of the moral code] the station presents us with the duty, and we say “Yes” or “No.” “I will” or “I will not.” We choose between obeying or disobeying a given command. In the morality of challenge or grace the situation says, “Here is a mess, a crying evil, a need! What can you do about it?” We are asked not to say “Yes” or “No” or “I will” or “I will not,” but to be inventive, to create, to discover something new. The difference between ordinary people and saints is not that saints fulfil the plain duties which ordinary men neglect. The things saints do have not usually occurred to ordinary people at all. . . . “Gracious” conduct is somehow like the work of an artist. It needs imagination and spontaneity. It is not a choice between presented alternatives but the creation of something new.

Hamlet [or St. Paul’s Cathedral] is . . . more than the sum of its problems; [it is] a living power. . . .

The only two things we can do with death are, first: to postpone it, which is only partial solution, and, secondly, to transfer the whole set of values connected with death to another sphere of action—that is, from time to eternity. . . .

There is never any point in time that can conclude or comprehend the Idea. The problem is never so solved that it is abolished: but each time it is restated, a new thing is made and signed with the formula “Q.E.F.&rdquo [quod erat faciendum, which was to be done].

The desire to solve a living problem by a definitive and sterile conclusion is natural enough: it is part of the material will to death. . . .

The mind in the act of creation is . . . not concerned to solve problems within the limits imposed by the terms in which they are set, but to fashion a synthesis which includes the whole dialectics of the situation in a manifestation of power. In other words, the creative artist, as such, deals not with the working of the syllogism, but with that universal statement which forms its major premise. That is why he is always a disturbing influence; for all logical argument depends upon acceptance of the major premise, and this, by nature, is not susceptible of logical proof. The hand of the creative artist, laid upon the major premise, rocks the foundations of the world; and he himself can indulge in this perilous occupation only because his mansion is not in the world but in the eternal heavens. . . .

So far as I conform to the pattern of [fallen] human society, I feel myself also to be powerless and at odds with the universe; while so far as I conform to the pattern of my true nature, I am at odds with human society, and it with me. If I am right in thinking that human society is out of harmony with the law of its proper nature, then my experience again corroborates that of the theologians, who have also perceived this fundamental dislocation in man. . . .

If you ask me what is this pattern which I recognize as the true law of my nature, I can suggest only that it is the pattern of the creative mind—an eternal Idea, manifested in material form by an unresting Energy, with an outpouring of Power that at once inspires, judges, and communicates the work; all these three being one and the same in the mind and one and the same in the work. And this, I observe, is the pattern laid down by the theologians as the pattern of the being of God. . . .

The artist is crucified by tyrannies and quietly smothered by bureaucracies. . . . [2004: the artist is now a bureaucrat.]

As for the common man, the artist is nearer to him than the man of any other calling, since his vocation is precisely to express the highest common factor of humanity—that image of the Creator which distinguishes the man from the beast. . . .


From Dorothy L. Sayers, The Mind of the Maker, “Scalene Trinities”

It is the mark of the father-ridden that they endeavor to impose the Idea directly upon the mind and senses, believing that this is the whole of the work. . . . Among the son-ridden, we may place writers . . . in whom the immense ingenuity and sensuous loveliness of the manner is developed out of all proportion to the tenuity of the ruling idea. Their ghosts enjoy a kind of false Pentecost, thrilling and moving to the senses but producing no genuine rebirth of the spirit. . . . The ghost-ridden writer, on the other hand, conceives that the emotion which he feels is in itself sufficient to awaken the response, without undergoing discipline of a thorough incarnation, and without the coherence that derives from reference to a controlling idea. . . .

The artist must not attempt to force response by direct contact with any response of his own; for spirit cannot speak to spirit without intermediary. To interpret sensibility to sensibility we must have, not only the controlled technique of the Energy ordering the material expression, but also the controlling Idea, “without parts or passions” that, moving all things, “doth itself unmoved abide.” There must, in all art, be this hard core or containing sphere (whichever metaphor is preferred) of the unimpassioned. . . .

. . . the famous line:

A rose-red city half as old as time

ten syllables which have sufficed to render their creator [Dean Burgon] immortal, though nowhere else in the poem [Petra: Newdigate Prize Poem (1845)], nor (so far as I know) in the rest of his creation, did the worthy gentleman present to the world a single memorable phrase. . . .

A confirmed feebleness in the “father,” or Idea, betrays itself in diffusion, in incoherence, in the breach of the Aristotelian unity of action or, still more disastrously, of the over-riding unity of theme. . . . A successful work of art will always disclose a unity of tone and theme. . . . Tristram Shandy, for example, the most willful of . . . pretenders to incoherence, is held together by a bland uniformity of style and a methodical lack of method that bear witness to the cunning co-operation of father and son in its creation. . . . [contrary example of Beddoes]

Everything in the visible structure of the work belongs to the son; so that a really disastrous failure in this person of the trinity produces not a good writer with a weakness but simply a bad writer [or no writer]. . . .

[Discussion playwrighting] The dramatic Gnostic has been ruthlessly pilloried for all time in Mr. Puff [in Sheridan’s The Critic,, Act III]:

Lord Burleigh comes forward, shakes his head, and exits.
SNEER: He is very perfect indeed! Now, pray, what did he mean by that?
PUFF: You don’t take it?
SNEER: No, I don’t, upon my soul.
PUFF: Why. by that shake of the head, he gave you to understand that even though they had more justice in their cause, and wisdom in their measures—yet, if there was not a greater spirit shown on the part of the people, the country would at last fall a sacrifice to the hostile ambition of the Spanish monarchy.
SNEER: The devil! Did he mean all that by shaking his head?
PUFF: Every word of it—if he shook his head as I taught him.

Gnostic also is the preposperous stage-direction at the end of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Drama of Exile. This is scarely a fair example, since it is not likely that she ever seriously contemplated production on any commercial stage; but it is a rich pleasure to quote it:

The stars shine on brightly while ADAM and EVE pursue their way into the far wilderness. There is a sound through the silence, as of the falling tears of an angel.

Whereas failure in the father may be roughly summed up as a failure in Thought and failure in the son as a failure in Action, failure in the ghost is a failure in Wisdom—not the wisdom of the brain, but the more intimate and instinctive wisdom of the heart and bowels. . . .

The very essence of the ghost’s persona [is, in art]: the power to know [artistic] good from evil. . . .

The Sixth Catholic Carnival

JB 97

Jacques Barzun celebrates his 97th birthday today.

Monday, November 29, 2004 +


From Dorothy L. Sayers, The Mind of the Maker, “The Love of the Creature”

A work of creation is a work of love, and that love is the most ruthless of all the passions, sparing neither itself, nor its object, nor the obstacles that stand in its way. . . .

[Creative love not possessive or sentimental . . .]

“Sacrifice” is another word liable to misunderstanding. It is generally held to be noble and loving in proportion as its sacrificial nature is consciously felt by the person who is sacrificing himself. The direct contrary is the truth. To feel sacrifice consciously as self-sacrifice argues a failure in love. When a job is undertaken from necessity, or from a grim sense of disagreeable duty, the worker is self-consciously aware of the toils and pains he undergoes and will say: “I have made such and such sacrifices for this.” But when the job is a labor of love, the sacrifices will present themselves to the worker—strange as it may seem—in the guise of enjoyment. Moralists, looking on at this, will always judge that the former kind of sacrifice is more admirable than the latter, because the moralist, whatever he may pretend, has far more respect for pride than for love. The Puritan assumption that all action disagreeable to the doer is ipso facto more meritorious than enjoyable action, is firmly rooted in this exaggerated valuation set on pride. I do not mean that there is no nobility in doing unpleasant things from a sense of duty, but only that there is more nobility in doing them gladly out of sheer love of the job. The Puritan thinks otherwise; he is inclined to say, “Of course, So-and-so works very hard and has given up a good deal for such-and-such a cause but there’s no merit in that—he enjoys it.” The merit, of course, lies precisely in the enjoyment, and the nobility of So-and-so consists in the very fact that he is the kind of person to whom the doing of that piece of work is delightful.

It is because, behind the restrictions of the moral code, we instinctively recognize the greater validity of the law of nature, that we do always in our heart of hearts prefer the children of grace to the children of legality. . . . Love and resignation can find no common ground to stand on. . . .

The stronger the creative impulse, the more powerful is the urge away from any identification of the Ego with the created character. . . .

The first literary efforts of the genuinely creative commonly deal, in a highly imitative manner, with subjects of which the infant author knows absolutely nothing, such as piracy, submarines, snake-infested swamps, or the love-affairs of romantic noblemen. The well-meant exhortations of parents and teachers to “write about something you really know about” should be (and will be) firmly ignored by the young creator as yet another instance of the hopeless stupidity of the adult mind. Later in life, and with increased practice in creation, the drive outward becomes so strong that the writer’s whole personal experience can be seen by him objectively as the material for his work. . . .

Sunday, November 28, 2004 +

Times Moves

A Java applet after a Javascript classic.


From Dorothy L. Sayers, The Mind of the Maker, “VIII. Pentecost”

When the writer’s Idea is revealed or incarnate by his Energy, then, and only then, can his Power work on the world. More briefly and obviously, a book has no influence till somebody can read it.

Before the Energy was revealed or incarnate it was, as we have seen, already present in Power within the creator’s mind, but now that Power is released for communication with other men, and returns from their minds to his with a new response. It dwells in them and works upon them with creative energy, producing in them fresh manifestations of Power.

This is the Power of the Word, and it is dangerous. Every word—even every idle word—will be accounted for at the day of judgment. It is of the nature of the word to reveal itself and to incarnate itself—to assume material form. Its judgment is therefore an intellectual, but also a material judgment. The habit, very prevalent today, of dismissing words as “just words” takes no account of their power. But once the Idea has entered into other minds, it will tend to reincarnate itself there with ever-increasing Energy and ever-increasing Power. It may for some time incarnate itself only in more words, more books, more speeches; but the day comes when it incarnates itself in actions, and this is its day of judgment. . . .


From Dorothy L. Sayers, The Mind of the Maker, “VII. Maker of All Things—Maker of Ill Things”

Only X can give reality to Not-X; that is to say, Not-Being depends for its reality upon Being. . . . The bung-hole is as real as the barrel, but its reality is contingent upon the reality of the barrel. . . .

God, according to St. Thomas Aquinas, knows Evil “by simple intelligence”—that is, in the category of Not-Being. But men, not being pure intelligences but created within a space-time framework, could not “know” Evil as Not-Being—they could “know” it only by experience; that is, by associating their wills with it and so calling it into active Being [anti-Being]. Thus the Fall has been described as the “fall into self-consciousness,” and also the “fall into self-will.”

The Fall had taken place and Evil had been called into active existence; the only way to transmute Evil into Good was to redeem it by creation. But, the Evil having been experienced, it could be redeemed only within the medium of experience—that is, by an incarnation in which experience was fully and freely in accordance with the Idea.


From Dorothy L, Sayers, The Mind of the Maker, “VI. The Energy Incarnate in Self-Expression”

[Besides God's revealing himself in creation] Christian doctrine further affirms that the Mind of the Maker was also incarnate personally and uniquely. Examining our analogy for something to which this may correspond, we may say that God wrote His own autobiography. . . .

The first thing we have to notice about this is that the body is created exactly like all the rest of the author’s creations and suffers exactly the same limitations. . . . It is “altogether God,” in that it is sole arbiter of the form the story is to take, and yet “altogether man,” in that, having created the form, it is bound to display itself in conformity with the nature of that form.

A second point to notice is this: that the autobiography is at one and the same time a single element in the series of the writer's created works and an interpretation of the whole series. . . .

Thirdly: though the autobiography “is” the author in a sense in which his other works are not, it can never be the whole of the author. . . . “I do the will of My Father.” This does not mean that the revelation is not perfect; it is, as the phrase goes, “perfect of its kind” but the kind itself is capable only of so much and no more.

[Fourth, like all autobiography, whether sincere or not] it is an infallible self-betrayal. . . .


From Dorothy L, Sayers, The Mind of the Maker, “V. Free Will and Miracle”

To hear an intelligent and sympathetic actor infusing one’s own lines with his creative individuality is one of the most profound satisfactions that any imaginative writer can enjoy; more—there is an intimately moving delight in watching the actor’s mind at work to deal rightly with a difficult interpretation, for there is in all this a joy of communication and an exchange of power. Within the limits of this human experience, the playwright has achieved that complex end of man’s desire—the creation of a living thing with a mind and will of its own. . . .

The true freedom of the Energy consists in its willing submission to the limitations of its own medium. The attempt to achieve freedom from the medium ends inevitably in loss of freedom within the medium, since, here as everywhere, activity falls under the judgment of the law of its own nature. . . .

Consequences cannot be separated from their causes without a loss of power; and we may ask ourselves how much power would be left in the story of the crucifixion, as a story, if Christ had come down from the cross. That would have been an irrelevent miracle, whereas the story of the resurrection is relevant, leaving the consequences of action and character still in logical connection with their causes. It is, in fact, an outstanding example of . . . the leading of the story back, by the new and more powerful way of grace, to the issue demanded by the way of judgment, so that the law of nature is not destroyed but fulfilled.


From Dorothy L, Sayers, The Mind of the Maker, “IV. The Energy Revealed in Creation”

The vital power of an imaginative work demands a diversity within its unity; and the stronger the diversity, the more massive the unity. Incidentally, this is the weakness of most “edifying” or “propaganda” literature. There is no diversity. The Energy is active only in one part of the whole, and in consequence the wholeness is destroyed and the Power diminished. You cannot, in fact, give God His due without giving the devil his due also. . . .