Thursday, September 22, 2022


Martha being in Colorado a couple days makes me realize some things I ought to have realized long ago, but being me -- a substance considerably more dense than the marrow of a neutron star -- I had not actually realized: to wit, that none of my problems of concentration or of maintaining self or social ties have to do with Martha's presence: in fact I do substantially worse when she is not here than when she is. I am less likely to read carefully, to stay on task, to keep my diet, to stay in touch with people, to exercise, to maintain the house. I deteriorate by every measure I track, and by every one I can think of that I don't. It is only due to Martha's presence that I am not already a fat and aimless hermit. So there's that. 

Not that I actually blamed Martha for my deficiencies. That is not my way: dense though I am, I am not quite that dense. But I think from time to time I have refrained from blaming her, which is for some purposes the same thing. No, old friend, no: all these tendencies are my own, and all solutions will grow out of the only soil in which any of the goods of my life have grown. 

Throw the windows wide. Comfort poor Van, who is appalled by Martha's disappearance, and sleeps all day on her spot on the couch, not even rousing himself at the sound of a can of cat food being opened. (His consciousness is on strike: it refuses to return to work until she's back). Water the plants. Muse on the variations of cloud building and dissolving, north over the neighbor's gable. Count, if I must. One hundred and fifty breaths is one attempt at falling asleep. Fifteen long breaths, if I'm lying on my belly, opens the subway stops along the lumbar spine. How many before Martha is back? Too many to count. It's only a day, by the reckoning of the world.


--Esto es un disparate, Aurelito --exclamó.
--Ningún disparate --dijo Aureliano-- es la guerra. Y no me vuelva a decir Aurelito, que ya soy el coronel Aureliano Buendía.


Reading Schindler's Freedom from Reality. The first part is a close-reading of Locke, which is just so good and so telling, and illuminates so much about the American political predicament.

Wednesday, September 07, 2022

A Twitch of Light

All the beasts 
come snuffling to your hand.
You pet the bears and the serpents
and pat the shy outstretched hand of the orangutan
ruff up the parrot's feathers the wrong way
at which he loudly complains
and comes back for more.

So. Breathe out, cough maybe.
It didn't 
matter so much after all, did it?
Pull out the dart, and the barb remains
at a blurred purple distance under the skin
pulsing, poisoned, pretty,

Or at least as durable as the reddened skin
which for practical purposes 
is time everlasting.
I guess you really thought 
the ark wouldn't come, or the dart wouldn't strike:
that there was something you could do
a way to change
the order of operations. Not because you ever said as much,
I don't mean that, but because of how stricken you are
now that everything has come to pass
feared and desired. (An uncharitable guru might say,
what did you think fear and desire were for, anyway?
But that's not how we roll.)

Stroke every loving creature;
let the barb do its work. A numbness
and a rush of gratitude:
a twitch of light behind the hills.

Monday, September 05, 2022


The thing about D.C. Schindler -- yeah, he's a Catholic, and yeah, my list of problems with Catholicism is as long as your arm -- but the thing about Schindler is that his philosophy places beauty right square at the center of life, as the dynamic heart of experience and intelligence.

I've grown up in a world that views beauty as an option, an ornament, something you can dabble in at the end of the day if your serious work is done: a matter of private taste, with no objective importance or reality. This view is so obviously and immediately wrong, to me, that all the philosophies undergirding it -- which includes all the ones I encountered in my youth -- struck me as obviously and immediately wrong. Or at least irrelevant. I don't know much, but I do know that beauty is the center of life, not its periphery. It's not an inert thing you titillate yourself with from time to time: it starts things, it precipitates thought and action. It is the fundamental experience of orientation. How can you tell if you're faced in the right direction? If you're perceiving beauty. Life is, in some ways, as simple as that.

I think Plato and the Neoplatonists could have helped me think through this, if I had met them in auspicious circumstances, but I met Plato early as The Man Who Is Wrong About Everything, and I never met the Neoplatonists at all. The closest I got to them was the C.S. Lewis of The Abolition of Man, or the G.K. Chesterton of Orthodoxy (and Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, though I was slow in recognizing it.) Religious conservatives were to me simply the Enemy in those days: the people whose philosophy found its fullest expression in napalming little girls in faraway countries: the gulf was just too wide to cross. And in those days I believed in the redemptive power of Freedom and Socialism: let them work their magic, and beauty, as the natural state of things, would follow as a matter of course. (I suppose I still subscribe to Freedom and Socialism, in some of the stricter political senses of those words, but I no longer believe either one can save us, or make our world significantly more meaningful or beautiful. They're just political strategies to me, now.)

So while I found Lewis and Chesterton and Tolkien weirdly attractive, and I thought their critique of modern habits of thought was in some ways persuasive, I still didn't really, finally, take them seriously. They were a side-street in my mind, a lane I found myself turning into over and over, even though I knew that it couldn't lead anywhere. 

But now, with Schindler -- by way of John Vervaeke -- it suddenly seems to me this street does lead somewhere. I kept turning here because it was, in fact, the direction in which I wanted to go. I don't need to become a Catholic to take truth and beauty seriously. Lots of people have taken truth and beauty seriously. More of them than haven't, actually.

I'm not saying that "beauty" can stand in for "goodness." Beauty is an intimation, and it can be a misleading one. It suggests that there is something to be understood, that there is a form and a structure and a logic to something, even though I can't immediately grasp it; but of course I can mistakenly think I have grasped it, and embrace things that are bad because I have misunderstood. This happens all the time: in fact it might be fair to call that mistaken grasp the stuff of daily life. Some traditions lay so much stress on the delusiveness of beauty that they reject it altogether. But I think that's ridiculous. A person who is blind to beauty is blind, period. There is no other place to start.