Category Archives: Good Quotes

Proust on cars

Proust’s In Search of Lost Time is a work of self through memory. The search is conducted through memory with the aid and hindrance of phenomena and habit, but done for the authentically expressing self. Or at least so I read it from my vantage point, a few hundred pages into The Captive.

One of the more interesting moves Proust makes in this great search of recollection is that time is not neutral: the wager of the search is that time can be lost and regained. In the course of his search the author comes face to face with the different natures of time, and how each of these differently impacts our self, world, and memory.

Part of the reason for this is that Proust is figuring out how to be an authentic self in a world in which time (and our entire being) has been so uprooted from the natural and tradition-based rhythms in the world around us. In a similar vein as Heidegger, Proust observes that modern technology confronts our world in “the character of a setting-upon, in the sense of a challenging forth.” And because this setting upon “expedites in that it unlocks and exposes…driving on to the maximum yield at the minimum expense,” our time and the world’s time changes, taking on different modes depending on which techniques of revealing and bringing forth are at work. Continue reading Proust on cars

Yoder on faithful living and Marion on faithful seeing

Similarities between the theology of John Howard Yoder and Jean-Luc Marion may not be immediately evident. At the same time, I suspect that Marion’s work will become more helpful to my own theological work if I can tease out some of these similarities and put them into conversation with each other. One such similarity I think I’ve found is their shared conviction to act as if the world is God’s and is loved by God. Yoder often voices this conviction in terms of faithful living and Marion in the terms of faithful seeing. However, for both true sight and living well are so closely joined that they are almost the same thing. This is what I am trying to point towards with my quotations from Marion and Yoder below.

Before getting to those passages, I’d like to clarify one aspect of ‘true sight.’ Often true sight is a euphemism “for a beautiful vision to impose from above by authority,” to use Yoder’s words in just one of the many passages where he critiques such methodology. For both Yoder and Marion, an emphasis on seeing does not start with a large vision, but with the particular and with letting particular people, places and things speak with their own truth and beauty. Marion’s term “saturated phenomena,” speaks to this and to the excessive profundity of the world when we see that it participates in love before being. If it isn’t explicit I hope that this aspect of sight is at least implicit in the following passages.

“We are not called to love our enemies in order to make them our friends. We are called to act out love for them because at the cross it has been effectively proclaimed that from all eternity they were our brothers and sisters. We are not called to make the bread of the world available to the hungry; we are called to restore the true awareness that it was always theirs. We are not called to topple the tyrants, so that it might become true  that the proud fall and the haughty are destroyed. It is already true; we are called only to let that truth govern our own choice of whether to be, in our turn, tyrants claiming to be benefactors.” – Yoder, For the Nations

“The same distance designates the same world as vain or as ‘beautiful and good,’ according to whether the gaze perceives the distance through one pole or the other: from the world as vain or as ‘beautiful and good,’ according to whether the gaze perceives the distance through one pole or the other from the world, on the fringe that opens it to the excess of a distance, the totality appears to be struck by vanity; from the inaccessible point of view of God, at the extremes of distance, the same world can receive the blessing that characterizes it in its just dignity….

For another gaze – the gaze of God – boredom no longer arises; the gaze that can love strikes no longer with vanity, but prompts ‘goodness.’… [V]anity arises from a gaze that exceeds Being/being without yet acceding to charity, a gaze that discovers the world as being beyond Being/being without seeing it loved – by God…. Vanity comes from the boredom of man, not from the boredom of God; for God loves, and from the gaze of charity comes the ‘goodness’ of the gazed at….

That which is, if it does not receive love, is as if it were not, while that which is not, if love polarizes it, is as if it were: the indifference to determination according to ontological difference reappears as the responsibility of love…. To give the world which is, empty of love, for that which is not but belongs to the domain of love – there is nothing more reasonable and even advantageous.” – Marion, God Without Being

The Working Melancholic

Yet another naming of the world that really hits home for me.

Psychologically, present-day cynics can be understood as borderline melancholics, who can keep their symptoms of depression under control and can remain more or less able to work. Indeed, this is the essential point in modern cynicism: the ability of its bearers to work—in spite of anything that might happen, and especially, after anything that might happen.” -Sloterdijk, Critique of Cynical Reason

Woolf on “genius”

The rhetoric of Genius is a tricky thing. What constitutes genius? Some kind of transcendence where authorial context  need not be considered? What kind of spaces are required for someone create a work of genius? On this blog, I’ve read about the genius according to Proust and Madmen. All this is to say, the language of genius doesn’t sit neutral with me and it appears to carry some weight with both Joel and Gerald.

On the silliness and sadness of genius Virginia Woolf writes this piece describing what it might have looked like if a woman in Shakespeare’s day had had Shakespeare’s genius:

Let me imagine, since facts are so hard to come by, what would have happened had Shakespeare had a wonderfully gifted sister, called Judith, let us say. Shakespeare himself went, very probably — his mother was an heiress — to the grammar school, where he may have learnt Latin — Ovid, Virgil and Horace — and the elements of grammar and logic. He was, it is well known, a wild boy who poached rabbits, perhaps shot a deer, and had, rather sooner than he should have done, to marry a woman in the neighbourhood, who bore him a child rather quicker than was right. That escapade sent him to seek his fortune in London. He had, it seemed, a taste for the theatre; he began by holding horses at the stage door. Very soon he got work in the theatre, became a successful actor, and lived at the hub of the universe, meeting everybody, knowing everybody, practising his art on the boards, exercising his wits in the streets, and even getting access to the palace of the queen. Meanwhile his extraordinarily gifted sister, let us suppose, remained at home. She was as adventurous, as imaginative, as agog to see the world as he was. But she was not sent to school. She had no chance of learning grammar and logic, let alone of reading Horace and Virgil. She picked up a book now and then, one of her brother’s perhaps, and read a few pages. But then her parents came in and told her to mend the stockings or mind the stew and not moon about with books and papers. They would have spoken sharply but kindly, for they were substantial people who knew the conditions of life for a woman and loved their daughter — indeed, more likely than not she was the apple of her father’s eye. Perhaps she scribbled some pages up in an apple loft on the sly but was careful to hide them or set fire to them. Soon, however, before she was out of her teens, she was to be betrothed to the son of a neighbouring woolstapler. She cried out that marriage was hateful to her, and for that she was severely beaten by her father. Then he ceased to scold her. He begged her instead not to hurt him, not to shame him in this matter of her marriage. He would give her a chain of beads or a fine petticoat, he said; and there were tears in his eyes. How could she disobey him? How could she break his heart? The force of her own gift alone drove her to it. She made up a small parcel of her belongings, let herself down by a rope one summer’s night and took the road to London. She was not seventeen. The birds that sang in the hedge were not more musical than she was. She had the quickest fancy, a gift like her brother’s, for the tune of words. Like him, she had a taste for the theatre. She stood at the stage door; she wanted to act, she said. Men laughed in her face. The manager — a fat, loose-lipped man — guffawed. He bellowed something about poodles dancing and women acting — no woman, he said, could possibly be an actress. He hinted — you can imagine what. She could get no training in her craft. Could she even seek her dinner in a tavern or roam the streets at midnight? Yet her genius was for fiction and lusted to feed abundantly upon the lives of men and women and the study of their ways. At last — for she was very young, oddly like Shakespeare the poet in her face, with the same grey eyes and rounded brows — at last Nick Greene the actor-manager took pity on her; she found herself with child by that gentleman and so — who shall measure the heat and violence of the poet’s heart when caught and tangled in a woman’s body? — killed herself one winter’s night and lies buried at some cross-roads where the omnibuses now stop outside the Elephant and Castle.

That, more or less, is how the story would run, I think, if a woman in Shakespeare’s day had had Shakespeare’s genius.

From Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, Chapter 3.

(According to Merleau-Ponty) Engagement with the things is the way to truly let them be

“The effective, present, ultimate and primary being, the thing itself, are in principle apprehended in transparency through their perspectives, offer themselves therefore only to someone who wishes not to have them but to see them, not to hold them as with forceps, or to immobilize them as under the objective of a microscope, but to let them be and to witness their continued being – to someone who therefore limits himself to giving them the hollow, the free space they ask for in return, the resonance they require, who follows their own movement, who is therefore not a nothingness the full being would come to stop up, but a question consonant with the porous being which it questions and from which it obtains not an answer, but a confirmation of its own astonishment. It is necessary to comprehend perception as this interrogative thought which lets the perceived world be rather than posits it, before which the things form and undo themselves in a sort of gliding, beneath the yes and the no.” – The Visible and The Invisible, 101-102

Seeing Things in Merleau-Ponty

I have often been in conversations with people much smarter than I. Often I try to ask questions that I can’t quite formulate, yet I have a feeling that there is an inconsistency with the terms that I have in my thoughts. I can’t nail it down. The smart person will say: “ah, what you are trying to say is ____.” They are able to re-organize my own thoughts for me.  These moments where my thoughts are clarified and said anew by another are the moments in conversations that are often the most satisfying. Here is what I am trying to say…

“Great works of philosophy, like great works of art, have a [style of an oeuvre]. The style of a thinker’s thought, its unthought element in other words, is more easily recognizable by others than it is by the thinker himself

…when I realized that Merleau-Ponty does not say some of the things I thought he should, I wondered whether all along I had been seeing things in his work that simply are not there. I became convinced, however, that what he does say points unequivocally in the direction of an overall view that he seems not to have been able to articulate himself. I leave it to the reader to determine whether the interpretation I give is reckless or responsible. In any event, there is no doubt that it forms the type of history of philosophy that stands on the “middle-ground where the philosopher we are speaking about and the philosopher who is speaking are present together, although it is not possible even in principle to decide at any given moment just what belongs to each” (S 202/159). Merleau-Ponty, like Heidegger, thought that this way of engaging with a philosopher is the best way to be faithful to him. I hope he was right”  Sean Kelly from Cambridge Companion to Merleau-Ponty

Still, I do think that with most of our work there is a nameable element that is perceived only by others, who can give new life to our thoughts — regardless of how “great” we are. It is a matter of being faithful and engaging with each other, not just with philosophers.

A new blog with no new posts?

I fear that for the past while Idols & Icons has been a bit of a desert when it comes to producing content. If there are still readers out there hanging on, I can tell you that the reason for my absence has been that I was studying for and then recovering from the GRE. I’ve got a few posts just about ready to go. In the meantime, I can share with you one thing I learned from the grueling process, courtesy of Son of the Fathers: “The GRE is a great way to test whether you can study for and take the GRE. That’s about it.”

The Christian’s Destination as Ongoing Work that is Good

I often find it helpful to think of the Christian life in terms of journey and Good work. And I also find that we best think of this journey or work as ongoing. In this way the destination of the Christian’s journey is journeying in friendship with God. God does not call us to something that is other to Godself, and God does not give us hard work prior to a reward in abstraction from this work. Certainly God promises rewards to the faithful, but these rewards are in fulfillment of the good towards which our faithful actions gesture. Martyrdom, for example, is a confessional embodiment of the Kingdom reality of “living together in love,” which is promised the reward of the loving communion of the resurrection.

This approach has the advantage of not separating God’s gifts to us from our reception of (and participation in) these gifts. Grace and discipleship are brought together rather than severed. Such an approach also holds the potential of dispossessing us of any pretentious to absolute truth. We may be called by God, but this calling does not mean that we know in advance where and how God’s truth may be found. In fact, it actively calls us to a certain openness towards unexpected discoveries of God’s grace. For if our goal is ongoing work, then perfection involves continued growth and learning, not “having it all together.” And finally, seeing the Christian journey as ongoing removes any separation between God’s being and God’s act. God both is love and gives love; resting in God’s love is not different than living a life of love. Continue reading The Christian’s Destination as Ongoing Work that is Good

“Disciplined Inattentiveness”

In the introduction to his commentary on Hebrews, D. Stephen Long calls the reader to a disciplined inattentiveness while reading the book of Hebrews. The point is that the modern reader, living in a flattened and gridded world, cannot enter into the book of Hebrews unless she or he also enters into its “odd” world of depth, messiness, and wild spiritual entities. To quote Long more fully:

Bultmann intended…to show the need to demythologize the Bible, rid it of its enchantments, and make it palatable to life on the grid. Hebrews challenges this intent by asking us which is the ‘real’ world. Is it the flat metaphysics of the grid, or is it the illusion that requires a disciplined act of inattentiveness to see it as real? – Long, 13 (my emphasis)

Continue reading “Disciplined Inattentiveness”

One more reason to read the endnotes

I think I often do my best writing in footnotes and endnotes. In a footnote there is less of the feeling that the words are graven in stone, and there’s something very freeing about that. It seems that something similar may be going on for Stanley Hauerwas:

“[This] is but another indication that ethics at best is only bad poetry – that is, it seeks to help us see what we see every day but fail to see rightly. Put differently, ethics is an attempt to help us feel the oddness of the everyday. If ethicists had talent, they might be poets, but in the absence of talent, they try to make their clanking conceptual and discursive claims do the work of art.”
-Stanley Hauerwas, Community of Character, 246n59