Friday, August 5, 2016

III.7: On Devotion

Montesquieu is Nietzschean in his cynicism. Nothing illustrates this more than his treatment of dévotion.
Devotion arises from a desire to play some role in the world, whatever the cost. (Pensées, 4)
Devotion is the belief that one is worth more than another person.(Pensées, 594)
To perform a bad deed, devotiom finds reasons that a simple honest man cannot find.(Pensées, 1140)
I call devotion: a disease of the body that gives the soul a madness whose character is to be the most incurable of all. (Pensées, 1405)
Devotion gives one the freedom to be immoderate. Princes are often devout, Monty says: "devotion allows them politics, and politics allows them all the vices..." (Pensées, 445) As he says elsewhere, princes are never offended by treatises of morality; they make morality. The powerless, on the other hand, assert their will and their triumph over necessity by their fanaticism. To want to change the world: the perversion of philosophy effected by Marx, trickling down to the common people.

Between weakness and power, timidity and despotism. The moderate proportion between birth and fortune, moral logic and physical logic, excess and deficiency. He says God "a great workman" has given our souls "tendencies." Everyone has "a restless inner desire" to use his faculties to improve himself; the "austere morality" of devotion, which aims to destroy the sentiments and penchants which put the world in motion (Pensées, 5)-- this is "the cost." Devotion is a sublated desire to make a difference in the world, a will to power.

Friday, July 22, 2016

III.6: Continuation of the same subject

whaddyaknow about work (look at these hands)
and hardscrabble-tough: this is what it means
to live and suffer (our shared particularity)
and they have us all using the word 'individual'
breeding a rebellion of white trucks
which by knowing less know more
and you've heard it all before, so back,
back, back to solecism

Irony: Aristotle said there was only one good reason for innovation
(A footnote from Strauss, interpreted by Mansfield):
missile defense: city walls. Build a wall,
change the world. Sparta had no walls, but Athens did.
Athens was an island, its walls its sea;
it was a ship, and Themistocles and Pericles its captains:
they were citizens of the world too,
and they were serious about wall-building
not for defense but so they could rule the seas
without being worried about the land.
Thucydides tells us what he thinks about that:
they could have won, and should have
even though they were punished by the gods for it.

III.5: On Criticism

well put-together sentences:
a wire grid that hides the grime--
so crisp, so crisp

container envy:
interlocking plastic temporary--
so clear, so clear

secondary sources:
engaged to be the tertiary--
so dear, so dear

Sunday, June 26, 2016

III.4: On immigration

One million Goths settled in the Roman empire
at one time, in the time of Valens,
who welcomed them as fresh fighters,
who would do the jobs that Romans wouldn't.
One hundred and fifty years earlier,
the emperor Caracalla granted citizenship,
for taxes, to all freemen in the empire.
Later, Valens fought the Goths he had settled there;
they won, and the Empire was no more.
These Goths were refugees; they fled the Huns.
Two generations later, the Goths sacked Rome;
two more, and the Huns swept through the North.
Tarpeia leaves the door open, and in they come in waves.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

III.3: That epics are told at and about the ends of civilizations

There's a blindness to the height of civilization:
it looks back at a time in the darkness,
where out of that black soup came a few fine men
strong and capable and good: their nobility
was the exception, almost superhuman--
having the power to hurt, they did none;
rather, they helped: they fought and destroyed monsters:
so these modern poets, in the modest poleis
miles inland, the citadel a center of religion only
now, a place where some scattered zealots scram to
when the Persians come to get revenge,
they say that this was when men were men,
these heroes, these knights; they had a code of honor,
and look at what great things it made them do!
The gentleman-soldier, whose killing is of the
highest kind, whose well-founded city grants him pre-
eminence, whose breed is to be seen but rarely
in these mediocre, well-functioning times:
he longs for economic disparity, for petty dispute,
and for robber-pillage-rapers to hold the roads:
that is his aesthetic.

Friday, June 24, 2016

III.2: On the particular good

It's hot in the cave, in the car,
in the cramped corner of your intelligence;
my eyes are stinging, and they each can't see
what each sees when it sees.

There's a cortext of suffering, where signals
get sent to send a message to the man.
That's where we live now, where we want to live
and leave behind where we're learning to be.

That soft grizzle-gruff sensitivity,
that grimy, greasy stuff which grows on me;
you let it seep sleeping into you
and wither waiting to want to do.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

III.1: The laws and their relation to climate

check-swing, low, in the dirt:
the hips turn, but the arms don't
follow through; there's a twisting
but no burst, a coiled spring
pushed down and carefully
let back up. tentative.

full-count: worn fully away,
jeans jammed full with fat flesh
& zipper zagging carelessly
hanging off, flailing open,
stepping in the bucket,
lunging with butt backed out
hoping to flare something somewhere.

a crispy newness: flaked apple skin,
cake shell topping snow-crunch,
wet wood with life still left in it,
getting dressed on the cold spring morning;
rosy pink comes to the surface,
winter light warms the white grass
and wishes it into deepest green.

Monday, December 28, 2015

II.16: New Modes and Orders

Some of the more fragile, wispy things
should be put away carefully,
or at least should not be left out for long,
or they might slip away dreadfully

Sometimes the wind blows awfully
and these papery mittens they hold up,
and they're battered, they're bashed in
but they can still be found again luckily

There's a temporaneity to narrow and compact
naughts and condescensions.
They're basura; they fill the wastepaper bin.
They'll wander with a heavy charity, woefully.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

II.15: Another Invocation

Gold-wingèd virgin Muse...

Speak through me; I am mad, I am sure of it.
The best advice I ever got: avoid self-consciousness.
But tell that to a thinker and an organizer
not of socks and things but of categories
and classifications curious and white-tailed,
where out of drawers they fly and float
and must be collected and nailed down,
under glass, to be gazed upon forever,
and you might as well search in the sea
for Polycrates' signet ring; only luck
would have it that he would be sick,
or fail in some unnecessary, aggrandizing
venture. The best prophecy I ever got:
my life would reach fruition at 31 or 32.
Really? Is it only degradation of mind
from here on out, and less and lesser conquests?
Alexander died at that age when he'd taken
half the world-- to keep him from the rest.
But I, like Hamlet, have done nothing.
Truer oracle, second best: your love of
bootie-- it was spelled that way-- will
be your downfall; how, again? how
unprofitable are these voices from the deep
which tell us what we can't but know, or,
knowing, are no help to us? Therefore,
virgin ladies daughter to Zeus, speak through me
truth, or not-truth, what you'd have, but let
not me speak of mine or me or my more. For I
am but a cipher of that spirit which is there
for us all; and we, all, are but that stuff's
leaky and fleeting grave.

My liking's for the gracious. Thus does love
define my sunlight and my beautiful.

Outline of 26 Chapters: XX

XX. Our Commercial Sexuality

Are we particular-perverse, glorifying young flesh?
No, it's not that; it's the sale of it; it's that
it's the medium of exchange and the substrate
for every mode of culture, low and (high).

The Greeks provide a sort of model.
They worshiped youth (but not immaturity),
as a sort of pure vessel, to be filled with
potent wine mixed with wat'ry mod'ration.

It is hard for us to speak of it,
even to recognize ourselves in it,
and see how like (and unlike) it we are,
in that ephemera, transcendent.

Let's not pretend the Dionysia was wholesome,
just an agricultural festival,
rightly honoring the new season
with bread and wine and dancing.

It is a late corruption, by a late god,
and a late people, who lately love their youth
because they've felt a violent innovation
and look no longer to the future.

The pomp of the winter festival:
first the phalloi, those ubiquitous things
they'd always make reference to, as if to say:
We are men, and we are hard and potent.

Unbelievably, after the phalloi come the young girls
carrying baskets. This is about life, and love
and all the joys of living love. So bread,
and wine, and, water-- these come next.

And then the dancing and the singing--
mind you, they are naked-- and worship
of the god; in all this, and separately,
they honor his provident fecundity.

Finally, the days and days of plays
and so much love and drinking. This was
so much a part of the state that Pericles
would pay for your attendance.

Apollo, ancient god of necessity, was depicted young and nubile.
The Greeks saw universality in what was so particular.
They saw a kind of permanence in that height of strength
and potential which only adolescents see
(but they see it so poorly, and dimly-bright,
and it is colored with their own fatuous desire)--
and yet, they think (and know) that they will live forever.

Explain Greek pederasty: a barbaric custom for the upper classes,
a brutal overturning of the natural order,
a harmless way of bringing up the youths from riotous and fiery
to ordered and virtuous and directed to what is best and highest.
(Plato criticized it highly but subtly
and for that is remembered for it-- an irony of history,
like Aristotle's "defense" of slavery).

But we-- oh we-- we do not seek to lift youth up,
but to dwell in it. Teach it virtue? No, it is it
that is to teach us, because it knows what
we want to know, and that is to be young, and cool, and sexy.
Phalloi? Our sexual symbol is the breast, pert and happy,
unsuckled, without droop-- and fine that it is like
the flower in the freshest of the season--
but without function? Without bees and pollen,
what use is it? Only to foment feckless desire,
so that we can produce and procure so many
proxies absent of our procreation.

There's nothing seminal in it; however foul
Greek lyric poetry was, it's always "fields"
and "dew" and "the plough"-- cows and trees and maidens.
The nakedness itself is a kind of renunciation
of the sale of youth: where's the enticement in't?
It's as obvious as the sun, not some fairy allure
which provides a feint for misdirection.

The real question: is this new? Or just a resemblance
(not a reflection) of the past in the future of human things?
There is nothing new under the sun, says the preacher in a book
which is one of the few distillations of our wisdom
which claims a linear progression and a work on high,
which, orderly, directs things to their height and conclusion.
What we moderns must think, then, is a kind of Providence
in our causes-- "the arc of the moral universe is long,
but it bends toward" self expression and personal identity.

That new Eros Temple modern philosophers constructed:
"Muses... you lead to wisdom and truth through pleasure":
softly, softly, lead us on: "one is instructed though I do not teach":
it is a kind of pious seduction wherein we worship these dull forms
that flit and fork and flirt with us to lead us on-- where?
anywhere, as long as we keep moving (no Summum Bonum, no Finis Ultimus)--
Oh Muses, wherein does your reason lie?
No more shall our maidens lay down to die.

Monday, December 21, 2015

II.14: On modern commerce

what so many little fingers indicate
might poet, atop the tripod, unseen
and unheard pass through, like frantic sleep
spill and sop up haphazardly?

heard a pop song in my soporific:
"somewhere I'll go, and I will find you"--
that was the gist, and it was a happy chanson
which had these weary, long-gazing words
for a generation's part hence gone,
lyrics like: "when the seasons waste away,
upon another (far and distant) day,"
elsewhere misty, discombobulate, tired-out,
in tone like Hamlet's "how weary, stale, flat, and
unprofitable seem to me all the uses of this world!"
and yet it was pure, pious, almost ethereal
in its delicate hopefulness,
like an angel's song echoing in a dark tunnel
down through time, and space, and across
a chasm of chance and character.

that dust and driftiness won't die; it will
sit there like silt and sediment to be,
again, stirred up into a siren's call
(or perhaps a savior's incantation)
to make grotesque the stomach
and light the shoulders with her wings
which would sprout whene'er the wind might blow.

it was I was singing, a bit creepily
to think on't now, but then a most innocent
and longing lustre for a vision of myself
hence to the future, the confident ditty
a coded message from self to self to sing along
through many hazy and heavy winters.

the god through me, drowsy-pythian? or
just listlessness and illicit desire,
filtered appropriately in verse
innocuous? my byrds have teemed graceful
'fore this, but ne'er have ta'en so long a flight:
What seems so precious has
fore'er and still the strength of night.

II.13: Evenus of Paros

Famously, Socrates did not charge his students:
they came to him, and he picked
(not the other way around), and he was picky.
Evenus was cheap, Socrates said,
for the knowledge he said he had:
that of virtue, of the human being
and citizen; well, then, Socrates,
what are you wise in? But
Callias paid five minae each--
a small sum, however much it is,
for so great a daily teaching--
for his two sons to learn.

"I hold that not the smallest part of being wise
is knowing truly what each man is like."
This is practical Socratic wisdom,
or Platonic, for a dialogue is a
re-presentation of each man's thoughts,
and character, reason always fixed
together with passion and a man:
"Often men's anger will lay bare their hidden mind"--
and anger is most rational--
"insanity is nowhere near so bad."
Let us stop with action, political action,
with making a difference in the world.
Let us have knowledge first,
seek to understand human beings first,
and then perhaps we will not want
that shadow of a shadow of a curse:
"Resolve combined with wisdom
brings much benefit; without it,
it brings harm and misery."

Such is this man's thought, and teaching,
that a rich and noble man would pay dearly for:
dear gods, do not let my sons become politicians,
or even tax-brokers, or hedge fund managers.
"A son means either fear or pain full-time."
Let them even be drunkards and seekers
of low pleasures, if only it is moderate.
"But I'll go home-- I've had my measure
of sweet wine-- and think of sleep,
that frees us from all ills."

For most, agree to disagree ("'you can keep
your opinion-- I'll keep mine'"),
only reason with the persuadable;
otherwise, drink, and practice, and be humble,
moderate, patient. You can always trick nature;
it is simple, stupid. With all its dumb logic
it does not see how many loopholes it leaves
for infinite pleasures and depressions.
Who is to say what is right? Look to the conventions
and when you can get around them,
if it's worth it. "I hold it is long practice, friend,
and this constitutes human nature in the end."

Better than to be evil is to be merry
in due measure without fear. Tell them
how it is: "rogues lord it over men of worth."
A kind of manly hedonism these days unseen,
confident in intransigent humanity
from perpetual observance to endure
what's come will come again for sure
'tis unavoidable. "The cleverest
and most stupid thing is-- time."

Sunday, December 6, 2015

II.12: On Philosophy

I am a philosopher.
Wasn't Socrates, too, a narcissist?
Perhaps ours is not a particularly narcissistic age,
but rather it is that we feel compelled
to publish our narcissism
that makes our times distinct.

I am more liberal than the liberals,
and more conservative than the conservatives,
and by so much more than they can imagine
a sane and happy face could light upon.

I can expose babies on the rocks for their defects,
marry twenty wives, have male lovers because
the male is higher than the female and
love of the high is higher than love of the low.
Is that far-left or far-right? Neither:
there is no war, except for the truth,
and political institutions, and these are all
martial metaphors.

I can twist the knife into your conscience
and your healthy prejudice. Nietzsche called it
being sick because being healthy means to
get along. But the health of bodies depends
upon these filthy pathogens. That man
had more moral clarity than a thousand priests
and a hundred preachers, but not one prophet:
for to found: that takes a mind unmoored,
but with boundless love and imagination,
who is willing, with Moses, to lead his people,
all of them (almost), to their deaths,
for the Good. He tore down, like Nietzsche,
but boy did he also build up. We are still
living in the house he built.

The greatest statesmen are neither lib nor con as well;
they are whatever the times require, which
they find out beforehand, and which find them there
when they, themselves, with all the airy bluster
of a babe new come into the world, get there
to announce to all their singular importance.

Why say now what they never said then, in so many words?
Because seeing, they do not see, and hearing,
they do not hear. But isn't that why Jesus said
he spoke in riddles?
Philosophers, poets, prophets, and statesmen:
these are the makers of religion.
"The doctrine of an intelligent being
was discovered by Plato as an antidote
and a defensive weapon
against the calumnies of the pagan zealots."

"I don’t know if there has ever been
a prince in the world
who has been offended by
a treatise on morality."


II.11: On Cimon

They loved the old man for all the wealth he brought them
and all the valor he displayed in foreign wars,
but they could never fear him,
as Themistocles, who fought
for the very life of Athens and of Greece,
and who, himself, could be disposed of
once the existential threat evaporated;
or as Pericles, the chief bigot,
the presider-over-all-Athens,
where all the best plays and parties are;
or Pericles, who led Greece into a civil war,
who brought on the apocalypse,
father against son and present against past,
where prudence is cowardice and moderation weak;
that Pericles who died of divine plague
before he could ever be removed.

"Th'art an Athenian, therefore welcome."
He enriched all, so he died poor.
Or was that "the Just" Aristides?
Or he was a Spartan-lover, he who
named his son Lacaedomonius, or the Spartan one,
he who was an Athenian general even
at the time of their war with Sparta?

So they kicked him out, but brought him back
before the term of his exile was done:
a great insult, to tell the truth:
they wanted him to broker a peace deal with Sparta.
and so he did, and so he went on to be
the moderate and conservative opposition
to Pericles, and to be forgotten.

Hero of Salamis, Hero of Eurymedon.
Stuck between two giants, two griffins
who freed the slaves or enslaved the free,
made Athene an island and turned to the sea:
he was a drumbeat, necessary and incessant.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

II.10: On Pre-Socratic Wisdom

The thing to do is only elaborate as much as necessary
and be ridiculously profound by being terse
and laconic,
to say true things carefully, and cold,
so that all passion can be added later, or taken back.

The Greek Sages seemed to think that the more syllables
their sentences had,
the lesser their wisdom:
Ακουσας νοει, Σαυτον ισθι, Κακιαν μισει:
Know what you have heard, be what you are, and despise evil.

So the Delphic Oracle's inscriptions reduce them to E:
closed off on one side, with an upper and a lower
limit, and a path in between: know yourself, the mean is best,
and don't get cocky.

Friday, July 10, 2015

II.9: On Plutarch's Kind of Belief

Plutarch was a priest of Apollo at Delphi, but he seems to have regarded it as a moral-civic, rather than religious, office. It certainly wasn't a vocation. It seemed to have been his responsibility as a wise man of the region to translate desire and concern into moral recommendation, the kind of thing that early in the life of peoples may seem to require divine inspiration, but later only a peculiar kind of awe of the wisdom of the ages.

In addition to his priesthood, Plutarch served as a public official in his native Chaeronea, sometimes as archon, sometimes as diplomat. Though admmitted to Roman citizenship, he did not translate himself to Rome, but kept court in Boeotia. He does not appear to have been a man with great and immoderate desires. Late in life, having worn the robes of a Delphic priest, he wore the consular robes as procurator of the Roman province of Achaea. He was a man of learning, a political man, and a man of the cloth.

It would seem that such multilateralism indicates the decadence, not the vibrancy of religion. And indeed, Plutarch is somewhat of a rational humanist when his roles as biographer, philosopher, and moralist lead him to accounts of the extraordinary and supernatural. But note also how he gives the best and most sympathetic interpretation. Sometimes he says something like, 'well, who am I to disupute that this happened?' which is not as much as to say, 'it did not happen,' while certainly falling far short of saying that it did. He needed to have such a moderate approach when writing of the Greek and Roman heroes, whose births and lives were always said to be accompanied by prodigies. Plutarch himself lived among peoples who employed diviners, though they were then taken much less seriously than in the time of Numa or even Alcibiades.

Homer, Plutarch says, does not
deny[] the action of a man's own deliberate thought and free choice... But where the act is something out of the way and extraordinary, and seems in a manner to demand some impulse of divine possession and sudden inspiration to account for it, here he does introduce divine agency, not to destroy, but to prompt the human will; not to create in us another agency, but offering images to stimulate our own; images that in no sort or kind make our action involuntary, but give occasion rather to spontaneous action, aided and sustained by feelings of confidence and hope. For either we must totally dismiss and exclude divine influences from every kind of causality and origination in what we do, or else what other way can we conceive in which divine aid and cooperation can act? Certainly we cannot suppose that the divine beings actually and literally turn our bodies and direct our hands and our feet this way or that, to do what is right: it is obvious that they must actuate the practical and elective element of our nature, by certain initial occasions, by images presented to the imagination, and thoughts suggested to the mind, such either as to excite it to, or avert and withhold it from, any particular course.
Divine action seems to be a kind of prevenient grace which provokes one to act, something which explains how deliberation ends and choice begins. Who can say what images will come to us in the crucial moment? If we are not to deny human agency, and yet allow for divine intervention, we must grant to the god a kind of intermediary power, a helpfulness, like that of Socrates' little divine thing.

But what is the occasion for Plutarch to engage in this speculation? What, among the many miracles related in his Lives, leads him to need to explain the role of the gods in human affairs in such a careful way? Nothing much: Valeria, Poplicola's sister, had a dream in which it was suggested to her that she should encourage Coriolanus' mother and wife to join them in supplicating him not to attack Rome. It would not seem something that would require divine intervention, except that, the situation being dire in Rome, the priests having failed to dissuade Corionalus from attacking, those in Rome, "placing their hopes chiefly in time and in extraordinary accidents of fortune," "they felt incapable of doing anything for their own deliverance..." (p. 315) It seems that the god acts only when something extraordinary is called for, but then, it is difficult to tell the difference between providence and fortune. Further, it is not so much the greatness of the act, but its timeliness or inexplicability which indicates divine intervention. This is almost enough to say that the more prepared we are, and the less powerless or surprised, the less the need for, or occurrence of, divine acts.

After Coriolanus' mother and wife persuaded him to turn back, and the city was saved, the senate asked the women what they wanted; it was willing to grant any honor or favor. They asked only that a temple be erected to Female Fortune and even offered to pay for it. When the senate accepted but paid for it with city funds, the women collected money for a second image of Female Fortune. This image apparently uttered, as it was being put up, "Blessed of the gods, O women, is your gift." Then it said it a second time.

At this, Plutarch scolds the women for "expecting our belief of what seems pretty nearly an impossibility." He goes on to say that statues may seem to sweat or even groan, and that this may be due to divine causes, but that there must also be some concurrent physical cause. What to conclude, then, about this miracle? "For it was never known that either the soul of man, or the deity himself, uttered vocal sounds and language, alone, without an organized body and members fitted for speech."

The women seem to have gone too far. They would not allow the city to pay for everything, to appropriate their goddess; it needed something of their own devotion, and something incredible which would make their devotion that much more admirable, something redounding to their own honor, like the actions of the Sabine wives in placating their people and bringing peace between the Romans and Sabines. The second statue speaks a second time, as if to give echo to its own redundancy. Plutarch balks, but ultimately cannot refute or deny this miracle, only say that it seems to him "a thing utterly out of possibility." "But," he says,
where history seems in a manner to force our assent by the concurrence of numerous and credible witnesses, we are to conclude that an impression distinct from sensation affects the imaginative part of our nature, and then carries away the judgment, so as to believe it to be sensation; just as in sleep we fancy we see and hear, without really doing either. Persons, however, whose strong feelings of reverence to the deity, and tenderness for religion, have certainly a strong argument for their faith, in the wonderful and transcendent character of the divine power; which admits no manner of comparison with ours, either in its nature or its action, the modes or the strength of its operations. It is no contradiction to reason that it should do things that we cannot do, and effect what for us is impracticable: differing from us in all respects, in its acts yet more than in other points we may well believe it to be unlike us and remote from us. Knowledge of divine things for the most part, as Heraclitus says, is lost to us by incredulity.
Faith cannot be refuted, and it may even be that the god deceives the imagination so as to make us believe an action has occurred through special, when it has actually occurred through normal means. One will always find the credulous ready to attribute fantastic things to divine action, and perhaps they know more about the divine. And yet, Plutarch seems to say through the context of this discussion, much that is extraordinary can be understood without the divine by the study of the human, by the study of extraordinary humans-- the heroes. The piety of the women, on the other hand, wishes to attribute divine effect to the ordinary human-- to their own prayers. This, in relation to the passage about Homer, above, would suggest that the pious often invoke the gods as a way of indicating the power of their own wills. But Plutarch, obviously, is more interested in the wills of the great.

Friday, June 12, 2015

II.8: Serapis

In the 3rd century before Christ, Alexander the Great's general Ptolemy, who was given the name "Soter," or "Savior," by the Rhodians for lifting a siege on their island, and later became the ruler/founder of a great post-Alexandrian dynasty in Egypt, introduced a new god into the world.

Serapis may have been some minor deity with a meager cult, but Ptolemy made him God of the the Egyptian-Greek unity which his own empire represented; he spread his worship as a matter of deliberate policy (Wikipedia tells us). Nearly six centuries before Constantine, Ptolemy tried to make a religion that would unify the world. The temple he had built for Serapis in Alexandria, was, according to Ammianus Marcellinus, the most magnificent building in the whole world after the Capitol in Rome; it was this edifice which contained the "two priceless libraries" which burned when Caesar sacked the city in pursuing Antony. As Pascal said, 'if only Cleopatra's nose had been a little longer...' perhaps we would still revere the name. Instead, it is forgotten.

Three decades after Constantine, the emperor Julian wrote to the People of Alexandria: "If you do not revere the memory of Alexander, your founder, and yet more than him the great god, the most holy Serapis, how is it that you took no thought at least for the welfare of your community, for humanity, for decency? Furthermore, I will add that you took no thought for me either, though all the gods, and, above all, the great Serapis, judged it right that I should rule over the world."

II.7: On Prophecy

In the end, everyone is a prophet
if only of his own death.
The first law of prophecy:
the future is only revealed in the present.
if the prophet tells the truth,
and is believed, the future changes;
if the future is revealed,
it becomes the past.

Was not Cassandra's curse the burden of all prophets?
What creatures swim in Cassotis spring?
Ambiguous ones, to be sure.
Insofar as we sing the truth, we know the future,
but the truth is hard to know, harder to tell.

Mantikos, you're crazy; you're a madman.
Why do you possess the Pythia with rotting snake
where you were slayed in the center of the Earth?
You're already dead, but you're forever in the bloom
of youth. Why would you speak those withered words?

Do not say, "King," but "He said, 'I am King.'"
It is too late. How truth shines out:
you will get what you want; only ask for it.
He saved others; He cannot save himself.
He is the mighty one who cannot save: Loxias,
or Light, or Death... it will not save you.
If only it were the end. But the shade slips out,
and it finds its way into a cleft in the rock,
at the omphalos, and it tells its secrets.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Outline of 26 Chapters: XIX

XIX. On the Age of England

Some peoples can never be made to look forward; even when striking out for new lands, placing an obelisk down to testify to the founding moment, they shine their glory back into prehistory. The Arabs call the time before Muhammad the Age of Ignorance, but the English wish to say that Arthur will, and has, lived forever. Celts and Britons, Angles and Saxons and Jutes-- it doesn't matter, because something further back gives the English their spirit. There is some ancient magic there.

We know when Charles made his crown and when the Lombard nail was added, and when the Great Charles knelt and was crowned. But before Aethelred and Alfred, there was Arthur; before that beginning, the old Empire lingered, and left as the Visigoths were approaching Rome. What ghosts did they leave there? How quickly civilization recedes into darkness, when deeds once recorded down to the day become murky to the year, to the decade, to the name-- he did not really die, he was healed and came back to life. He is the land itself, in all of its old stones. Stonehenge is so much older than Hadrian's Wall. A people lived there for two millenia, with the arts of moving the things of the earth, of erecting monuments and buildings and laying down roads and measuring the stars. But waves of darkness came and holes once used for posts and instruments became tombs, new built, within the sacred circle. Many uses have been found for it, but always they come back to human sacrifice. But it may have been a place of healing, of worship, of contemplation, or burial, or all of them. It may have been like Delphi (and it is so much older).

Will our astrolabes and compasses, our Ptolemy Stones-- data centers and missile control complexes-- become just so many obelisks for bloody abnegation? Perhaps not. There's something hermetic about being an island, such that secrets are transformed and distilled and worshiped there without ever really changing. Wastes do not wash them over.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

II.6: That the unity of body and soul is not desirable for men in common

Ever since Remirro and the knife and wood,
we've separated our powers. we're not
whole. that's a million byrds
flying in the same direction, a flock
full of loops and counter-loops,
interest counteracting ambition
and forces massing on the outside,
crying struggle, rage, jihad on such division.

but i'm comfortable with papercuts.
we'll never not need Philistines to come.
that's the only way to bring the lords together
and unite them under common crown,
besides the new artillery, which chops off
rough edges-- how your old artillery
of pyschophysical unity would pierce us.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

II.5: On attention to wisdom

What do we fill these houses with?
Other people are just pretending,
so smile and walk boldly in the world,
and take fortune cookie wisdom well,
for Providence is everywhere
when you look for it. Taste

and see that the Lord is good;
we need to be told that we're weak,
and would be like beasts without Him,
but what about thinking overmuch,
and writing and reading overmuch?
Apparently that's not natural.

So then how do coded messages get stuck
in there? I'm a silverware drawer for sure,
and that's why I dip my hand in honey.
But so often that sweetness is to be found
on the lips of a strange woman,
much as in oily, pleasant words.

Wormwood! And so I go down to death,
but I refrained from sacrificing
daughter or delightful dance
to a vain imagining. But better to
be like the tree which is planted
than to wonder what's in the doorways.

Monday, August 4, 2014

II.4: On delicacy

I know I can make some tender moments last a lifetime,
or even longer, if the Muses favor me,
and that, from an ordinary point of view,
that's ridiculous. But we don't live in wheelbarrows
or leaky lawnmowers that must be cleaned,
but in love with dirt and clippings.

Another A poem
That's why it's "we"; do we ever carry only us alone,
when we sit down to dream and sleep,
even to replenish or refresh? The smallest things
can be crimes against humanity, and that's enough
to make saintly little sinners weep. There's too much
at stake. One wonders how we ever raise our eyes to meet,
and yet, I feel yours on me now: drink deep.

You've wounded me, and though it was just a simple drop of blood,
it was enough to rouse their twerps and tweets,
and they sing better now. I'd not been serene 'til then,
and again I'm spilling out, no solitary mountaineer
but a captain in fair weather, leader of a fleet
to wink at shipwrecks. For me? For me? That's enough
to send me careening down the hill, laughing at my scrapes.

The men will still respect me. Let's hunt for stags
amidst the thorns and brambles; the only thing more perfect
is that I had never even touched soft forms,
or looked with more than longing in those eyes,
but only seen and known. I understand now
what Plato meant, and why the winner's gaze is deep.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

II.3: New Invocation

Calliope! My byrds are teeming,
and I swear by Styx, where all those tepid dreams
stirred up by a slight, laconic love—
mere fascination, more some glovéd hand
flickering frivolously from a carriage window
than Dante's ether-lady looking at him in an archway—
now sink down to drown and disappear
and up come the pearly bubbles,
that I will sacrifice to you.
Only teach me to flirt with Apollo's arrows
straining at the edge of the world,
covered in burning pitch under the great wall,
taking to heart the tearful spear
even unto the second and the third time.

Outline of 26 Chapters: XVIII

XVIII. On Dark Ages and Rebirths

There were so many popes and a few too many pontificates.
Innocents inflicted great spiritual wounds
after Caesars and Pompeys became Peters, Johns, and Matthews
(so says Machiavelli, the rebirth born again,
like what the populous north, to ravage glutted Southern lands,
poured forth from her frozen barbar'n loins,
(so says Milton, giving birth again to myth
and magic and a sense of sacred trust)).

Visigoths became lazy Romans in the hot sun
while unconquered Germans carried their spears everywhere
and remained Guntrams and Hildeberts,
letting their hair flow out, carrying their houses on their backs,
paying chickens to their local lords and testing their mettle
with swords and ice and fire
and all over again in silver cattle
(so says Montesquieu, that Frankish
founder-historian who wished even more than Rousseau
that we could go back into the woods).

They wrote poorly in Attic Greek in the Eastern Empire.
What silly tales must Charlemagne's intellectuals have told?
Still, these courts of culture were few, and far between--
for there must have been great sadness there,
the sense that something mightier than bishops and lords
had been lost, some magic formulae for happiness
and enlightenment (and gold).

Only reasonable that some lucky prods and pryings
would jar loose all the ancient secrets that
Aristotle and Plato had hid away under forms and definitions,
and of a sudden we would solve for X,
fling about all sorts of frequent forces
cute and capricious, for us to favor.
Now they built those cathedrals tall, filled them with the finest paintings
so that they could worship God with timbrel and dance and towering organs!

The leaves grew back, but the tree was different.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

II.2: A Poem for A.

I liked when you were foolish because of me
As grace sweeps bugs along a stony terrace
And drowns out with warmest wind the drafty skies.

You looked into the future with moonlit eyes
And dreamt off the ancient itches in our arms
Like love lets down its load before the fire.

I liked when you were foolish because of me
As joy shakes out shimmers from their spiny sheaths
And bubbles spend eternity in a crest.

You turned jellyfish and chased away the time
As hope fills the air with its fragrant whispers
That hang there, like oranges.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Book II, Chapter 1: On the common good

We begin alone.
But I've already ruined it:
I mean we begin this book with solitude.
What, are we doing this together?
Am I taking you somewhere?
Why would you go with me?
Why would we begin?
And if we're one, we are not many,
And you and I are just I,
And you're just me,
And you're away somewhere,
And you're waiting
To come into existence.

We begin again alone.
We did not come into this world
For any other purpose but to love.
I'm sure, even as I sit with stuff
No one cares about but me,
In an empty house, with no other sound
But this lonely preface.
Oh hearth! The laughter of friends!
The tedious, time-worn tittles
Of family table, of common ground.
The tree, long resting,
The nervous recklessness of youth
And sweaty baseball caps hung up.
None of this for me.

Cheap tin Texas star
To sit around,
And gaudy gimmick-glasses
To drink from.
There's no taste for being loved.
Give me your vapid TV time
To watch with.
I'd be constrained to share the good;
I'd love to.
I can't go back and get the knack for it.
We begin alone.
Sometimes I stay there forever.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Outline of 26 Chapters: XVII

XVII. What are Nature and Perfection, for Us?

We want to end up back at ends--
man cannot make himself! man cannot!
man must rely on God. must move in
a tight and a saintly circle,
must be haughty hesychasts,
teaching our babies to replace us,
and rule the world less permissively.

oh! But you will sweat for it, and
will want to give us bread and bullets.
And so I wonder if you will really...
pray like that. I used to laugh at
the notion of theocracy. Heh.
But hierocrats have always
managed to rise from the ashes.

The perfect poleis of the Middle Ages!
It was atheists who called them "Dark";
and their own time "enlightened"--
they say, but again I wonder
if the best time is not when our faith is slipping away,
when we struggle to hold onto.
Epics emerge out of unbelief, I fear,
and we only tell ourselves how great it was,
when something else is coming.

Our imperfect, perfected nature
naturally completes itself in God,
but how? by cutting our hair?
We'll go back to living
like that
and spend many dreary centuries there.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Chapter 162: Walk-Off Double

My byrds churn and I'm queasy
at the sight of feathers.
That's something rare and beautiful,
and so many things must coalesce
in wiry dungeons and folded heads
for them to fly there.

I didn't mean to disturb that delicate
what can I know of it?

and like a cat, clean myself
so as not to smell like what I am,
the better to stalk and hunt and kill,
but not before I maimed and called it play.

I'd like to have heard them sing together,
and not heard that accusation.
I'm sure it was beautiful,
as you are beautiful,
even when you call for justice,
or security or peace. or innocence?
(they might as well agree)
and hurt squeaks out like pins
and in me daggers, pikes, mortar blasts
so I know your byrds are churning too.

For a new season, an old refrain:
let byrds fly freely
like so many things
dreaming dreamt forgotten
waves washed over and over
flowers droopt and rotten

(but now they squawk, and i cannot silence them;
they only want to soar together,
but i cannot teach them to,
for then they will not sing.)

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Chapter 161: That it is sometimes necessary, but often impossible, to return to old modes

Another season draws to a close,
a losing campaign, again—
we've lost so many battles
that we should be conquered.

And we're losing fans;
they want to root for a more storied franchise,
or, at least, one without
such a history of failure.

What was David's sin?—
that he coveted Bathsheba?
Or that he went forth again every spring,
like a normal king,
instead of when God called them?
Or that instead of leading the command
of God's army, taking the field
at the priestly word of blessing,
he stayed back in his palaces
to drink and dream on ladies?

Still, we must to war
(How else for winning anything?)
even by despoiling, even when by waste
and weighted words slung carelessly,
many innocents might die.

How else can you count on winning glory?
He will—no longer—not appear
in clouds and fires to send us forth,
to lead us on our way.
We must say, "This is a rebuilding year.
We're developing the core
of the next championship team."

God goes before, for sure
(the young king said).
But did he not earn the laurels for himself?
And we say not now,
"Farewell happy fields, where joy forever dwells,"
but "we hope to win the war with words of love."
Was that why the Kingdom was lost?
and Uriah sent to die?

And had he not, would he have writ his praises?
Or would we be singing them?

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Chapter 160: Cyclopean

My temple is my own despondency,
and I expect you to come worship there,
for a moment.

It's in a damp place
where clothes were taken from the wash to be put out to dry
and then forgotten for the mold
in their basket, gray and fuzzy.

You will stand in line, alone, to read my letters
about how the seed fell on rocky dirt
and flourished for a moment before being choked
by crags; and stunted died dried out.

It's too late to drink that milk.
I had to build this in a desert
and a cave, and there I fed myself on grass, red meal,
and all the fragileness of glass and steel.

I prefer it curdled; that tastes sweet to me.
So pour out your wasted portions
and shepherdess confessions
on my altar.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Chapter 159: A Cheap Image from a Broken Bench

A crinkle in the eye
like the gleam of a chip bag
from a convenience store bought and discarded
in 24 hours.

And there it will sit lumplike seven days or years
puffed up with air and blown against a rock
until finally it falls into a stream to drown
and I forget all about those Bugles.

But a splash of light, a play in dream
quivers tendentiously just a second,
and I remember all over again what they tasted like
when they were eating me.

How could I forget all that shiny rustling?
It seems so callous now when I wait for a reed to sway
and cast a shadow of a spear across twinkly fields
to reveal a steely resolution.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Chapter 158: A Moment on Molucca Seas

I don't want to add you on Facebook
I want to have lived that life that would have put me there
And wait for you at the gate and kiss you for the first time
Before I even remembered ten years gone by
Green to yellow and red and black and gray and green again
When you would not know me from Adam
Virtuous and unafraid for being in-the-right and wondering
What a woman was really supposed to be like
And men to be ridiculed harmless with a glint
Of freckled fancy simple wait for me in the plaza
And I'd have that sweater that we were born in
And then we'll live asking questions we know the answers to
And then we'll die waiting for the winter we lived through
I would want to be nervous and unashamed not ashen faced
But dance eye to eye for the first and last and every time
I'm afraid I wouldn't sweat when I held your hand
And you wouldn't pull it away and wipe it off and twist up your face
And put it back again without saying anything
Which is what I'd imagine you would do if I weren't white and wicked
But then I don't know what it is to be so pure and patient
And to be such a dork so gracefully

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Outline of 26 Chapters: XVI

XVI. When the End Comes
The end is like a thousand windows opening and closing at once, and everything is pushed in the wrong direction.What should be encouraged is not, and what should be punished is rewarded. Decades or even centuries of repressed natural hatreds and passions erupt suddenly, and packs of human beings emerge to steal, murder, and rape. The gentle are always surprised by how quickly the vicious become willing to slit throats, sacrifice to their hunger children and the weak and dying, to return women to unregenerate servitude and misery. But none of this is terribly shocking or of interest except to interested parties in particular cases. For we all accept grisly things, and births and deaths, both so awesome and shocking, we keep locked away, but know they happen. Death is a rumor, birth—real birth—a freakish sub-culture. Now they do these things in the open, and you see them in little hovels, people birthing and dying, often at the same time. Just like you see sad women in trench coats hurrying along and old men sitting on benches as they always have, afraid of nothing and looking around almost in triumph as if to say, "I knew this was going to happen."

But these sights are not as shocking as the great falls of great pieties, like those who searched every day for old words to excise from their vocabularies and new ones to introduce, who sometimes fell under that scythe themselves, but ruled, collectively, as kings. You sometimes hear whispers of "a better world," and something like that is what they mean. But more prominent are those human types long mocked and thereby forgotten in any sincere incarnation, now returned: magnanimous criminals, rugged, prickly individuals obsessed with justice, noble prostitutes living undercover to undermine the slave trade.

What do they hold onto? A self-effacing faith makes a real comeback, and it's now about the place and something great that happened there: a market that worked particularly well, a man who kept order, a rainstorm that came at the right time. It seems that letting one's own and others' blood are just as much acts of piety. Once more special deities are carved up and given the fatty portions.

More than anything it's remarkable how boring it is, from the point of view of philosophy. But petty tribes fail to do nothing which was revered as really holy at the end of the last age: they live passionately, they respect each other, and they love. But everywhere darkness.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Chapter 157: Excerpt From a Post-Apocalyptic Dream

Everyone here speaks Japanese,
which may as well be Sanskrit.
They turned me over to the Mexicans.
"¿Como te llamas?"
Tenqo que aprenderla.

I saw a beautiful byrd like one
I once loved delicately in crisp weather
when we wore long, clean, woolen coats
and hers was a bright red or a haughty green
cast over the chair, under other articles
sooner to be put on—

(She was lying on her back on a dirty mattress,
even smiling, with some naked beasts around her,
focused on their needful work.)

I was the one in charge of our gun.
In a dark warehouse I assigned watches,
made plans in my head for distributions,
and settled down to a cold sleep.

Outline of 26 Chapters: XV

XV. On the Verge of Oblivion

At the end of the Roman empire they thought the apocalypse was just around the corner; they prayed for more time to repent and prepare for the Second Coming and the Last Judgment. It was the barbarians, though, that took them, both to Hell and to Heaven, which was nearly the same frozen forest.

Today, likewise, we fear the end in the form of zombies or the change of the weather, and think that if we pray hard enough and with a contrite enough spirit, we can forestall the inevitable. How vain we are, to think we are living in end times! That God cares so much about what we're doing personally! That we might wound him by sinning or that by genetically modifying plants or throwing away plastic bottles we will destroy the earth! That the dead will rise up again and feed on the flesh of the living—that is more likely than that by recycling newspaper temperatures will not change and that Florida will be ice and California sea.

Dread pictures! They are guilt for having trampled others in the rise to the top: look how many peoples the Romans destroyed utterly and then the nations destroyed by the Christian East because they thought they believed the wrong things.

Does the guilt for having succeeded befall only Christian nations? Surely not. The children of the prosperous ever see how worthless they themselves are and conclude that it was luck and injustices which made their fathers and grandfathers prevail. Then they clutch their pearls and crowns for a generation or two but make no new palaces. They live in outdated opulence; it crumbles—their penance. "We'll never be royals," they say, fulfilling the words of the son of Khaldun.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Chapter 156: Reviews of Post-Apocalyptic Movies, #2

Panic in the Year Zero! (1962) (Video; IMDB): A beautiful contrast of the wholesome and the unwholesome in a year everyone says was just swell, daddy-o. A Los Angeles family goes camping, nuclear bombs go off in L.A., and they go camping anyway, but for a lot longer than they planned. A switch turns off and dad, probably a war veteran, becomes a survivalist and longs to build a compound in Montana. He does the next best thing and stocks up on supplies and heads for the hills. He does what it takes to survive when all around him are losing their heads; the title, despite the exclamation point, is not an encouragement or an exhortation. This film features good acting, a sweet jazzy soundtrack which is somewhat of a contrast with the action on screen, and very realistic but tasteful depictions of human behavior during a state of lawlessness. Remember your Thucydides: ...human nature, always rebelling against the law and now its master, gladly showed itself ungoverned in passion, above respect for justice... (3.84.2) It does not revel in chaos but looks forward to the re-establishment of civilization. (8.5/10)

Sidebar: the Youtube page for this film includes links to other movies which feature nuclear war as a theme. Not post- but rather pre- or even non-apocalyptic, Fail Safe (2000) (Video; IMDB) is a call-back to the days of TV movie events. Presented in black & white, it features a star-studded cast and a nerve-wracking plot which is ruined by its implausibility (even within the ridiculous framework established by the film itself) and the cartoonish depiction of civilian think-tank experts on thermonuclear war. Despite the remarks of Harvey Keitel's character, General Black, the warmongerer played by Hank Azaria is correct that a nuclear war is just as winnable as any other kind of war. (After this, he is made to say increasingly sillier things.) Ignorance and self-importance ruins great shooting and acting. (4/10)

The Day After (1983) (Video; IMDBis a pretty good American TV movie about the immediate local consequences of a full-scale nuclear attack on the United States. It features realistic depictions of radiation poisoning and state-of-nature-style violence, but it's not really that compelling as a story, ultimately. As propaganda for disarmament and nuclear talks, it was very influential on President Reagan and others. Overrated, but worth watching. (6/10)

Threads (1984) (Video; IMDB) has basically the same plot but is a much better film. It's also much more graphic. It is not immediately presented as a drama, like The Day After, but as a narrated documentary which is framed by a comparison of human to biological life. It is also more sprawling and ambitious, covering a greater population and a longer time period. Very bleak. (7.5/10)

Testament (1983) (Video; IMDB) is framed as the journal of a San Francisco-area housewife who struggles to protect and provide for her family over the years after a nuclear attack which (probably) took the life of her husband. It does not attempt to be geopolitical, but only portrays the post-apocalyptic world through the eyes of an ordinary person. Worth a look. (7/10)

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Chapter 155: Obscure Post-Apocalyptic Movies, #1

Ravagers (1979): Perhaps the lack of pretension on the part of the director, Richard Compton, is what makes this film such a success as a portrayal of the post-apocalypse. IMDB: "He began his career in the early 60s making government propaganda movies for the United States Information Agency." A great start! After Ravagers, he never directed another (non-TV) movie, only episodes of TV shows. I can see why: people don't understand great film.

The brief description on Wikipedia is just wrong. Incorrect. That's not the plot. Helpfully, it does tell us that "Ravagers is part of a long line of Hollywood-backed post-apocalyptic films from the 1970s which are quite rare to find on television or home video." (See also here.)

It can be seen here. The description on that page ("In a post-apocalyptic world divided between two groups called the Flockers and the Ravagers, an adventurer and his pleasure girl try to find their way to a rumored safe haven called the Land of Genesis") is much more accurate.

The problem with most post-apocalyptic shows and movies:
1) They confuse the post-apocalyptic with the dystopic.
2) They focus too much on the wrong kind of realism.
3) They make the glory-seeking and contentious (in this film, the "ravagers") too evil, and the industrious and peaceful (in this film, the "flockers") too good.
4) They never end, as the state of war or the state of nature should, with a moment of political leadership and founding. They are usually open-ended and ambiguous.

Ravagers avoids all these traps. It clearly demarcates ravagers and flockers, which is good. But it is not shy about exposing the cowardice of flockers, and doesn't, as most treatments of the post-apocalypse, degenerate into uninteresting and unrealistic moralistic preening (see: The Walking Dead).

The cinematic production is poor (as this very entertaining article points out). But for me, that's one of the film's strengths. The lack of quality in casting and set design should make it clear that this film is more operatic than photo-realistic. It's a callback to John Ford westerns, which featured blond-haired, blue-eyed Indians. There are moments of dialogue that jar with what you see on the screen. These moments force you to realize that you are watching a play unfold, stiltedly, in five acts. It may be the unintentional result of a rushed shooting schedule or apathy on the part of the directors and actors, but the result is brilliant. When the protagonist and his doomed female companion are being chased by ravagers, she shouts, "behind you!" but they're actually in front of him. In that moment we enter a multidimensional post-apocalypse, an iconic representation of post-apocalyptica which abstracts from petty details and particularities to reveal the human struggle in its nakedness. "Apocalypse" means 'un-covering,' a 'revelation.' The post-apocalypse is therefore the human response to that revelation-- to himself, of himself. Ravagers, for all its flaws, does this well. (10/10)

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Chapter 154: Excerpt from a Post-Apocalyptic Novel

Their machines were easily halted,
their creators left helpless
to construct something more simple.
The people choked on their platitudes
and myths concerning peace and war.

For it came out of the dark deep,
the land of barbarians, whom
the creators of the complicated machines
took for civilized, cultured men--
for their rigid orthodoxies prohibited
any other kind of conclusion.

It was not a surprise, except
to those who closed their eyes and ears.
Which is to say: nearly everyone.

Chapter 153: Beginning of a Post-Apocalyptic Novel

Cracked the dead winter:
a shell of a tear interrupts
the languid forgetting, the oblivion.

Morosity lies fallow with spring frost
trod deeply, overturned and frozen
bitter mud, encrusted and ready.

Silly gleaming, shining stupid,
erases deep and lasting meaning
in a quip of sterling negation.

Pathetic and dirty, a festering sore,
a scratch of looking, pleasing
turns to black the deep well.

Dull and floating quiet screaming
reserves the horses for another time
when being stirs from every surface.

Slowly piercing this earth of conscious,
a sprout of what was dead emerges
to test its putrid leavings against sunny days.

Sad and lonely, the stupid bouy
bobs to see the curve of distance spurring
its illicit interest in the shore.

A rotten postule inside me stinks,
sappy pine needles sticky, starting
the syrup summer fresh for more.

Green shades aggregate, aggressive
to the blue calm, cultivated,
and purple seas acknowledge it no more.

Long dramatic exacerbation creates
perfection panéd and a noose created
for sparks of red and yellow war.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Outline of 26 Chapters: XIV

XIV. Whether the Trojans Should Have Carried Their Gods to Italy

Did Augustine really not understand that it is not the gods, true or false, who are to blame for men's follies, but the men themselves who have used the gods well or ill? Even to say there are false gods demands this. Machiavelli's rebuke was so powerful that now it seems obvious that religion is an epiphenomenon of arms. Christianity did not make Rome weak; of course Augustine is right to say that. Rather, a weak Rome made Christianity.

It was natural for Christians and pagans-- religious antagonists-- to turn on each other, but it is unbecoming of a philosopher to enter the fray. Today, or very soon, civilization will crumble and these regenerate Christians will say to the riotous: you did this. But they will have just as much sincerity as those Roman pagans did, calling for a restoration of the old sacrifices, dusting decrepit altars, erecting fabulous polished temples. New Life megachurches are just as much a sign that we have reached a precipice. There is a long moment, between end and beginning, when one does not know which is which.

Arcadius and Honorius did not appear until 400 years after Christ. There will be many fits and starts, invasions and retreats (to enjoy the booty). We will have abject princes bow before barbarian chieftains, and be hailed as heroes. And then we will celebrate our gods Diplomacy, Understanding, Respect, and Peaceful Coexistence; the manly call to arms will be seen to precipitate the final fall. But even this will be the gods' victory and coronation. Was Augustine really displeased with how it all fell out?