The Long View 2005-06-01: Reinventing The Wheel

By Alexander Blecher, blecher.info, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44929395

By Alexander Blecher, blecher.info, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44929395

I seriously doubt the proto-clickbait article cited here about mutated super-intelligent children in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone and surrounding areas, but I do find the unintentional wildlife reserve created in Ukraine fascinating.


Reinventing The Wheel

 

The fact that Stanley Fish, formerly the prince of postmodern criticism, is now teaching elementary courses in composition is alarming. More alarming still is his opinion piece in The New York Times of May 31, Devoid of Content, in which he explains how he teaches.

His thesis is that elementary writing courses should concentrate on the formal elements of language rather than on the content of what the students write about. That is reasonable enough; but see how he does this:

On the first day of my freshman writing class I give the students this assignment: You will be divided into groups and by the end of the semester each group will be expected to have created its own language, complete with a syntax, a lexicon, a text, rules for translating the text and strategies for teaching your language to fellow students.

That is what they used to teach Latin for. Students who would never be able to read a classical author with profit would nevertheless remember for the rest of their lives what the subjunctive mood is, and what the dative case is for. The very fact that some features of Latin have no analogue in modern English made the exercise all the more valuable.

I like artificial languages, too, but the students would be better served by a serious requirement to study a suitable natural language.

* * *

Here is good news, after a fashion: The Chernobyl nuclear disaster has spawned a generation of ‘mutant’ super-brainy children:

Kids growing up in areas damaged by radiation from the plant have a higher IQ and faster reaction times, say Russian doctors...They are also growing faster and have stronger immune systems.

This could be true. From what I hear, the Ukrainian government has made a serious effort to rehabilitate the areas affected by the nuclear disaster. The social investment has even created a small babyboom. It would be no wonder if the kids produced better vital statistics.

* * *

The Shameless Spengler at Asia Times explains why Benedict XVI is seeking to reverse the medievalizing wrong turn that the Church allegedly made in the 19th century, and why it is vital to the future of the West that he succeed. The column is called The Laach Maria monster. Here are some of the good bits:

The Church did not create Hitler, but the means by which it concocted a fake medieval past made it easier for the race theorists of Nazism to create their own medieval past as well. If it was convenient to concoct an Age of Faith, then why not also concoct a golden age of Aryan supremacy?

I see what he is talking about. In Inventing the Middle Ages, Norman Cantor mentions two German medievalists, Percy Ernst Schramm and Ernst Hartwig Kantorowicz, whom he calls "the Nazi Twins," and who were responsible for giving the Füherprinzip faux-medieval fairytale glow. However, I need a lot of convincing to be persuaded that the 19th-century Medieval Revival was chiefly Catholic in inspiration. Rather the opposite, if you look at the history of the Holy Grail. Was Wagner Catholic?

In any case, Spengler also has this interesting aside about the geneology of the liberal wing of the 20th-century liturgical reform:

James Carroll's 2001 bestseller, The Sword of Constantine, makes its villain the miserable Herwegen [the abbot of the Nazi-leaning monastery at Loch Maria], but Carroll discovers to his confusion that he has more in common with the pro-Hitler Benedictines of 1933 than with the present leadership of the Church. As Carroll reports, the "liturgical movement" of the 1920s introduced congregational participation in the Mass, that is, making the "people of God" (whoever might have wandered in) into the actor. Carroll approves, explaining, "No longer do we attend Mass as a collection of isolatos, each on his or her knees, face buried in hands from which dangle rosary beads. We do not approach God alone but as members of a praying community, members of a folk." Benedict XVI rejects the "folk" Mass on the simple grounds that God, rather than the "folk", is the actor in the Mass.

It is a little more complicated than that, but certainly one should look askance at any clergyman who says "community" where "God" would fit better.

* * *

Readers of my site will know that I am a great fan of C.S. Lewis. I was particularly impressed by his description of "joy," a term he uses in a way that is roughly equivalent to "Sehnsucht," or the Welsh "hireath." I knew what he meant, but I thought his treatment of the subject was wholly original. Recently, however, I have been reading Peter Brown's Augustine of Hippo, where I found some material related to this topic.

Augustine, like Lewis, was one of that not inconsiderable class of people who are converted in their early 30s, only to discover that their spiritual lives do not then progress to a state of unshakeable bliss:

Briefly, Augustine had analyzed the psychology of "delight." "Delight" is the only possible source of action, nothing else can move the will...But "delight" itself is no longer a simple matter. It is not a spontaneous reaction, the natural thrill of the refined soul when confronted with beauty...the processes that prepare a man's heart to take 'delight' in his God are not only hidden, but actually unconscious and beyond his control...Delight is discontinuous, startlingly erratic: Augustine now moves in a world of 'love at first sight,' of chance encounters, and, just as important, of sudden, equally inexplicable patches of deadness. (pp 148-9)

I am starting to wonder: has anyone, ever, had an original idea?

* * *

My amazement at the shoddy draftsmanship of the proposed Constitution of the European Union only grows with time. On policy grounds, I object to the International Criminal Court. However, as I have noted, its charter is clear, even inspiring in places, and it is of reasonable length. Again: what is wrong with Brussels?

Copyright © 2005 by John J. Reilly

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