Linked aphorisms: Barthes, the cootie catcher, and a way of tweeting

At lunch Sunday in the shade and breeze of a large oak beside the cow-punctuated hills that keep the summer air in Bluemont so dry, I gave a friend a copy of Roland Barthes’s Mythologies. Rocket Scientist Friend (hereinafter “RSF”), who was eating with us, took the book, turned at random to the article “Steak and Chips,” and read the first paragraph out loud.

“Pure unsubstantiated bullshit,” he reflected.

“Yes,” I said, “Barthes backs up nothing. His observations alone are sufficient.”

“Not for me.”


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Merton: Equality at natural law’s heart

The basic tenet of Natural Law . . . is that we should treat others as we would like them to treat us, that we should not do to another what we would not want another to do to us. In other words, the Natural Law is simply that we should recognize in every other human being the same nature, the same needs, the same rights, the same destiny as in ourselves. The plainest summary of all the Natural Law is: to treat other men as if they were men. Not to act as if I alone were a man, and every other human were an animal or a piece of furniture.

– Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, page 76.

This passage, which I discovered during a recent revisit to New Seeds, was the last thing I expected. Merton captures here better than I can the essence of natural law I learned first through Lincoln’s fixation on the Declaration’s equality clause.

U.Va.’s BOV: The need to listen, leak, & vacillate

Dear Governor McDonnell,

I read your letter of today to the University of Virginia’s Board of Visitors with some alarm. You suggest that the Board give little weight to opinions other than its own, and you remonstrate Board members for their leaks and vacillation. However, the Board has so far given no weight to the University’s constituencies – that’s been part of the problem – and the Board members’ leaks and vacillations have been two of the only things that may permit the Board to reverse itself and to save the University from a very dark future.

I’ll start with the Board’s treatment of others’ opinions. The board has already ignored the feelings and thoughts of every constituency imaginable – students, faculty, administrators, alumni (of whom I am one), and Virginia citizens (of whom I also am one) – in dismissing President Sullivan, and in doing so in such a high-handed manner. Should they continue to pay only lip service to any point of view but their own as you imply in the paragraph straddling the third page of your letter?

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Crime and Punishment / All the King’s Men

What’s a political novel? A novel with a political setting, or a novel that examines political theory? All the King’s Men is a political novel only in the first sense. Tom Jones is a political novel only in the second sense. Because this second sense of the term “political novel” goes more to an essence, for my money Tom Jones is more of a political novel than All the King’s Men.

People say All the King’s Men is about the rise and fall of Willie Starks, a state governor modeled after Louisiana’s Huey Long. There’s something to that: Starks’s turns away from his idealistic political start towards a cynical and corrupted governorship. But the novel doesn’t spend more than an episode or two fleshing out the change; it contrasts the change by flashback more than it examines it. Instead, the novel uses Starks and his change to examine human nature.

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Pardon my dust

Trying some new things here. Although I can’t have a fluid-width theme in WordPress and still have all of the goodies I want, I’ve discovered the next-best thing — a wider layout. I’m working on getting the header image wider, too.

The upgrade, which has taken a lot of time to implement, makes me just knowledgable enough again with CSS to really screw things up. So far, I haven’t blown up anything too badly, except the new mobile look, which I just mangled this morning.

Via Negativa

I watched for the next 50 minutes as [the black rat snake] ever so slowly descended the tree, studying all the alternatives each time before moving to a new knot, branch or other protrusion where it could gain some purchase. (I want to say “foothold,” but that’s not right, is it?)

From Via Negativa.

John field notes 14a: Mixing the modes

“For I am going to prepare a place for you.” Is Jesus getting around to answering Peter’s question in John 13:36 – “Lord, where are you going?” It took me a number of readings before I considered this possibility. In my own defense, the question and the answer are separated by a change in tone, and almost a change in mode. Only the question and answer seem to hold the text together, it seems to me now. But John uses the tension between the dialog and the changes in tone and mode to communicate meaning beyond what the words alone carry. So here’s the text:

Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, where are you going?’ Jesus replied, ‘I am going where you cannot follow me now, but one day you will.’  Peter said, ‘Lord, why cannot I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.’  Jesus answered, ‘Will you really lay down your life for me? In very truth I tell you, before the cock crows you will have denied me three times.

‘Set your troubled hearts at rest. Trust in God always; trust also in me.  There are many dwelling-places in my Father’s house; if it were not so I should have told you; for I am going to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I shall come again and take you to myself, so that where I am you may be also. [John 13:36 – 14:3, REB]

The chapter break, a long-after-the-fact construct that I have designated above with a paragraph break, seems appropriate here. Chapter 14 breaks away in tone, and seemingly in subject matter, from the drama of Peter’s protestations and Jesus’ dire prediction that end chapter 13. Jesus shifts from addressing Peter alone to addressing all of the apostles. We move also from the Passover Seder interaction — more of a narrative mode — to something like instruction, applicable to all people at all times, and we stay chiefly in this mode through chapter 16 with only brief interruptions by the questioning apostles, Greek style, to remind us that Jesus’ disquisitions are also dialogs.

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