Monday, April 27, 2015


Jon Snow (channeling Sun Tzu): I heard it was wise to keep your enemies close.
Stannis Baretheon: Whoever said that didn't have many enemies.--"High Sparrow" (Game of Thrones)

Saturday, April 25, 2015

A Forthcoming (May 2016) New Biography of Wallace Stevens)

NZ vs. Oz

On Wait, Wait on NPR someone (Peter Sagal I think) commented that if hardened criminals were sent to Australia, evidently New Zealand was the recipient of the British Commonwealth's badly behaved third grade boys.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Hating Hillary

MBAs for Atheletes

In an NPR story this week about special MBA programs for athletes, Santana Moss (former Jets and Redskins wide receiver) observed

I can learn from having went through this myself.

Good English apparently not a requirement for the degree.


Finally saw. What an awful, awful, awful utterly misconceived film. I want my 2 hrs., 18 minutes back. (In truth it seemed at least ten hours long.)

Maple Keys

The street in front of our house is covered with maple keys, so in their honor I post this passage from one of my first published essays, "Noticer: The Visionary Art of Annie Dillard" (Massachusetts Review [Summer 1980]).

In Pilgrim at Tinker Creek’s dialectical movement between lament and praise, a movement reminiscent of Rilke’s Duino Elegies, the encounter with the giant water bug and discovery of the grotesque with its opposite pole; an encounter with “sensual speech” in which Annie Dillard’s turn toward home is begun. At a point in her separation from nature at which she feels “the earth reel down” around her, she sees a sign and take note of it:

I was standing lost, sunk, my hands in my pockets, gazing toward Tinker Mountain. . . . All at once I saw what looked like a Martian spaceship whirling towards me in the air. It flashed borrowed light like a propeller. Its forward motion greatly outran its fall. as I watched, transfixed, it rose, just before it would have touched a thistle, and hovered pirouetting in one spot, then twirled on and finally came to rest. I found it one spot, then twirled on and finally came to rest. I found it in the grass; it was a maple key, a single winged seed from a pair. Hullo. . . . O maple key, I thought, I must confess I thought, O welcome, cheers. (274)
She greets the seed as a “thou,” not an “it,” for it is “bristling with animate purpose, not like a thing dropped or windblown, pushed by witless winds of convection currents hauling round the world’s rondure where they must, but like a creature muscled and vigorous. . . .” The maple key is “creature spread thin to that other wind, the wind of the spirit which bloweth where it listeth, lighting and raising up, and easing down.” In its presence she hears a “bell” within her ring a “true note” (my italics) that makes “a long dim sense” which she tries to explain:
Flung is too harsh a word for the rush of the world. Blown is more like it, but blown by a generous, unending breath. That breath never ceases to kindle, exuberant, abandoned; frayed splinters in every direction and burgeon into flame.
The message, the note, which the maple key leaves with her “brain-pouch” remains with her, bringing back into her world the immanence of earth’s regenerative powers:
And now when I sway to a fitful wind, alone and listing, I will think, maple key. When I see a photograph of earth from space, he planet so painterly and hung, I will think, maple key. When I shakes your hand or meet your eyes I will think, two maple keys. if am a maple key falling, at least I can twirl. (275-76)

They Killed McDreamy!

Thursday, April 23, 2015


Carl Yastrzemski, he wore number eight.
In the bat, in the field and at bat, my God he was great.
For 23 years he carried the load. 
A player like that deserves his own ode.
But here is the rub, Yastrzemski won't rhyme
with any word I've been able to find.
I've lain awake nights, I've done the research,
but found not one rhyme. I am left in the lurch.
There just is no rhyme to go with Yastrzemski,
and take that from one who has made the attemptski.
==Dick Flavin

Star Lord Goes to to the Park

Anxiously awaited.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

M. H. Abrams Dies at 102

Read here. Below I have posted two essays Abrams wrote about Owen Barfield.

M. H. Abrams on Owen Barfield

Review of History, Guilt, and Habit
Towards 1.5 (1979): 27-29.
For the half century and more of his life as a writer Owen Barfield has been a man who thinks otherwise, working against the grain of our prepossessions about man and nature and the relations between them. His latest book consists of three lectures delivered at Vancouver in the autumn of 1978, and Barfield took them as an occasion to present to a broad public a distillation of his thought in the many and diverse writings of his literary career. They assay western man's unhappy present, look back to a saner and happier past, and lay out a program for the future that will enable us to recover what we have lost by imaginatively "reexperiencing the past in the present."
Barfield's history of the human past is not, he emphasizes, "a history of ideas" (an account of evolving concepts); it is a "history of consciousness" (consciousness being defined as an inseparable "interpenetration of thinking and perceiving"). The past he undertakes to represent is the prehistoric past, prior to the existence of written records. Dr. Johnson derogated attempts to reconstruct the mind and life of man before recorded history—in the eighteenth-century phrase, "the state of nature"—as the speculations of those who like to talk about what they cannot know.
Barfield, however, in the most innovative aspect of his work, believes that we have valid clues to the unrecorded consciousness of man in recorded language itself; that is, in etymology. For words which currently have purely immaterial, conceptual meanings (like the word "conception" itself) are made up of material roots, while words which currently have material meanings (like "heart" and "sun") once had immaterial references as well. From such observations linguists have traditionally concluded that language began with words possessing purely material references, some of which evolved into a later stage of immaterial references. Barfield, however, concludes that in the very distant past human consciousness made no distinction, and a fortiori no division, between immaterial and material, subject and object, consciousness and things, thoughts and facts and feelings, inner and outer. What we now perceive as outer objects were then perceived as "images," fusing what we now distinguish as material and immaterial; hence the "lived world," the reality which men experienced, was a world constituted by consciousness and things, inner and outer, perceived as a seamless whole.
Our modern consciousness has become divided, in a way that is inscribed in our language, and consequently dominates not only our metaphysical systems but also the implicit metaphysics incorporated in what we call "common sense." And because our thinking consciousness inseparable involves our perceiving consciousness, the reality that we perceive has also been sundered—increasingly since the triumphs of the natural sciences—into an outer material world and an adventitious, internal subjectivity and sense of self. To our "idolatry" of a merely material and external reality Barfield attributes the essential malaise of modern man: his desperate sense that his infinitesimal self is cut off, isolated, estranged, or in the most potent term, alienated from the outer world, as well as from his original community with other human selves. The growing virulence of this disease of self-imprisoned man has as its symptoms an increasing incidence of free-floating anxiety, of objectless guilt, and most disturbingly, of that manifestation of the divided and alienated self we call schizophrenia. Our obsessive dividing of that which we should merely distinguish is driving us mad.
I write about Barfield's views in the mode of a neutral historian of ideas—a mode which, with his usual breadth and balance in treating modern intellection and science, Barfield admits to be valid and useful within its proper bounds, though radically inadequate to deal with the evolution of a full human consciousness. Barfield credits most of his leading ideas to Coleridge, Goethe, and above all Rudolf Steiner. But of course the view that, to heal the ills of the present, we must in the future revert to a more felicitous past, is the earliest recorded, and still the most persistent, western, design of history, whether the lost felicity is called Eden, the golden age, or the state of nature. And within this overall design, the oldest and most pervasive diagnosis of what is wrong with mankind is that what was once an all-embracing totality has become fragmented into isolated, alien, and conflicting parts. This diagnosis is embodied in the ancient and ever-recurrent theosophical myth of the One Primal Man who has fallen into division—a division from his own divine self, between his spiritual aspect and the material universe he had once incorporated, and among his individuated human selves. Writers of the Old Testament early translated the loss of Eden into figurative terms of man's divorce by, and unendurable exile and estrangement from, the one God whose marriage covenant Israel had violated by its idolatry of material gods. So early as the third century Plotinus gave such views of the human condition an enduring metaphysical form in his doctrine of an Absolute One, identical with the Good, from whom emanates everything that exists. In the scale of emanations, evil supervenes upon the material universe by reason of its farthest "remoteness," hence "privation" from the Good; and since the Good is the One, this remoteness is also a dividedness into separateness and multiplicity. Human, or moral evil, consists in the "fall" of each severed soul into an immersion in matter, and in the fuming of the aspirations and desires of the isolated soul from the undivided One to the material many. Plotinianism was quickly assimilated by the Church Fathers into the biblical scheme of history, so that, as Leone Ebreo summarized the widespread theological belief, "sin and division in man are almost one and the same thing, or at least two inseparable things, the one always implying the other." In recent times this conception of man's essential malaise was assimilated by Hegel into his philosophy of the division of Spirit into its self-centered and mutually conflicting others and given the name "alienation"; Hegel's alienation was by Marx reinterpreted into his "material" terms of a primitive communal stage of an integral man and society which, in the capitalist stage of history, has become divided into isolated and warring classes, in which each individual is fragmented within himself and alienated both from the natural world and from the products of his work; while Freudians often explain alienation as the consequence of the primal division from the mother at birth. In Thomas Wolfe's haunting epigraph to Look Homeward Angel:
Naked and alone we came into exile. In her dark womb we did not know our mother's face; from the prison of her flesh have we come into the unspeakable and incommunicable prison of this earth. . . . O waste of loss, in the hot mazes, lost, among bright stars on this most weary unbright cinder, lost!
D. H. Lawrence offers two versions of the alienated self. At the end of Sons and Lovers, it is the death of his mother that leaves Paul Morel isolated in a material universe in which "there was no Time, only Space. . . . Stars and sun, a few bright grains, were spinning around for terror. . . . 'Mother!' he whispered, 'Mother!' " In his book Apocalypse Lawrence explicitly reinterprets the biblical scheme of fall and redemption into a scheme of division and reintegration. "The cosmos is a vast living body, of which we are still the parts. . . . Now this is literally true, as men knew in the great past, and as they will know again." But the Reformation and the new science gave impetus to that process of fragmentation which is radical evil.
What we want is to . . . re-establish the living organic connections, with the cosmos, the sun and earth, with mankind and nation and family. Start with the sun, and the rest will slowly, slowly happen.
Suppose we now abandon the neutral stance of the historian of ideas and ask: "What evidence is there for the truth of this historical view of the essential health and pathology of mankind?" I have always found compelling the old maxim of consensus gentium, that what has in essence been asseverated, though in diverse creeds and vocabularies, everywhere, always, and by all men should be taken to possess a deeply human truth; and certainly, the view that the root of human evil and suffering consists in being divided, cut off, alienated from a former integrity qualifies, by this criterion of truth, as the oldest, most persistent, and currently by far the most prevalent diagnosis of the sorry condition of the human race. A problem arises, however, when we ask the further question: "What then shall we do to be saved?" For all the views of fragmented man that have sketched postulate a lost felicity, and analyze the preset infelicity, mainly in order to justify a program for a future restoration. But the proponent of each view promulgates a drastically different way toward reintegrating what in time has been divided, depending on whether he is a committed Hebrew or Christian, or a Plotinian, Hegelian, Marxian, Freudian. . . .
The way toward a saving reintegration that Owen Barfield proposes is, he says, extraordinarily difficult, but not impossible. It consists in a willed and irremissive undertaking to transform the inherited categories of our thinking—hence of the consciousness and perceptions with which our thinking is interpenetrative, and of the kind of "reality" we experience—against the powerful force of the "collective mental habits" that constitute common sense, and hardest of all, in a fashion that must inescapably be expressed in the very language which incorporates the categories we are trying to transform. Ultimately, however, Barfield's reliance is not on our conceptual thinking, but on the power of what he calls our "imagination" to break out of the imprisonment-in-division effected and enforced by our habits of mind and by the language we speak. That such an imagination of an integral world, in which man and consciousness are "inside" rather than "outside" a lived reality, can in fact triumph is attested by the long, vital, and effectively communicated lived reality of Owen Barfield himself.

On Owen Barfield

Ohio Review 13 (Spring 1972). 84-89.
In 1932 Owen Barfield, eminent jurist and man of letters, delivered and published a lecture on "The Philosophy of Samuel Taylor Coleridge." Now, after four decades of continuing interest in that subject, he undertakes to define the organizing principles that shape Coleridge's thinking in all its many areas of concern, philosophical, psychological, historical, literary, social, and theological. The author tells us at the outset of this ambitious task that he will leave out of account both the temporal development of Coleridge's thinking and the tangled issue of the Germanic and other sources of his ideas and processes of reasoning, on the premise that it is well to know precisely "what Coleridge thought before beginning to discuss when, or why, or in what company he thought it" (12). Barfield side-steps, then, the question of Coleridge's derivativeness, or "plagiarism," which has in the past year or so revived as a heated scholarly issue, in order to emphasize the integrity of Coleridge's systematic thinking, whatever the source of its components. What he in fact presents to us is what Coleridge thought after about the middle of the second decade of the nineteenth century, the time when, having assimilated Schelling's nature-philosophy and his Transcendental Idealism (1800), he set himself to adapt these views to his own prior interests and theological prepossessions. The result is by far the clearest, best organized, and most comprehensive account yet written of the intellectual premises and procedures that inform all of the work of Coleridge's maturity—work that includes Biographia Literaria, The Statesman's Manual, the Theory of Life, the revised Friend of 1818, the Philosophical Lectures, Aids to Reflection, and On the Constitution of Church and State.
Like other metaphysical "systems," Coleridge's is shaped no less by the world-view which he radically opposes than by the world he sets himself to explain. That world-view, to which Coleridge had himself briefly succumbed in the 1790's, permeated what he called "the Epoch of the Understanding and the Senses" which had been inaugurated by Descartes, Locke, and Newton. The crippling limitation of that way of thinking is that "the conceivable" is inevitably "reduced within the bounds of the picturable"; accordingly, its radical image is that of a natural world whose elements are matter and the laws of motion, whose mind is on one hand sharply divided off from nature, and on the other hand assimilated to the same explanatory principle as nature—that is, its component "ideas" are pictures as "inner" replicas of the "outer" material world, and the associative laws governing the separation and conjunction of these ideas are conceived s the mental correspondents of the laws of motion that govern matter. To Coleridge such a world-view is, precisely speaking, lethal, for it "strikes death through all things, visible and invisible."
Against this view Coleridge sets in radical opposition his "Dynamic" or "Constructive Philosophy." Behind the dead fixities and definites of the "phenomenal" world that Coleridge calls "Natura Naturata"—the world delivered by the senses and ordered in causal sequences by the understanding—lies the "Natura Naturans," or nature in its living process of bringing everything into being, not only in the realm we ordinarily call "nature," but in "mind" as well. The elements of this living and all-productive nature can only be imagined, not pictured, for they consist not of matter and motion and their mental equivalents, but of immaterial potencies that Coleridge calls "energies," :powers," "forces," which effectuate "the universal law of polarity":
Every power in nature and in spirit must evolve and opposite as the sole means and condition of its manifestation: and all opposition is a tendency to re-union. This is the universal law of polarity. . . .(The Friend, ed. Barbara E. Rooke (London 1969), I, 94 note.
As the ground of the universe, Coleridge posits a unitary "power" which polarizes into opponent positive and negative "forces" (also called "thesis and antithesis"). These polar forces, in their "living and generative interpenetration," constitute the creative principle that brings into being everything that exists. By the simultaneous action of expanding outward and pulling back, they "individuate" in order to repossess as a unity, or "differentiate" in order to "reconcile" into a "synthesis," which is a "higher third thing" that consists of two opponent forces in various ratios of the "predominance of the one character or quality, not by the absolute exclusion of the other."
Coleridge uses this single generative principle to "construct" (that is, to explain or render intelligible) the total phenomenal world of natura naturata. By incremental progression, in which the status of any state is measured by the degree of its integrated diversity, or "multeity in unity," the polar forces generate the ascending order of the inorganic world, then of the organic world, up to the stage of organic life at which the human mind; hence "consciousness," emerges. The achievement of consciousness is a radical break-through in the developmental process, for consciousness is capable of a reflex act through which, by the productive polarity between the conscious subject and the object it knows, it recapitulates to generic human awareness the generation of the natural world from which it has itself emerged; furthermore, by the act of self-consciousness," it is capable also of opposing itself as an object to itself as a subject. And within the realm of mind, the same generative principle effects the various levels of mental functions or faculties, up to the level of "Reason," which is the faculty that generates "ideas." This stage both culminates and closes the great circle of universal development, for by its "ideals of Reason," human consciousness rounds back to incorporate into awareness the starting point of the entire process: the basic laws of natura naturans, including the primal law of polarity itself. "For as the power of seeing is to light, so is an idea in the mind to a law of nature." In Coleridge's view, the "ideas of Reason" are not an intuitive capacity to penetrate through the phenomenal veil to a hidden reality; instead, they are the mental products and correspondents, as the culminating stage of conscious development, to the laws of nature themselves, to which they therefore stand as "correlatives that suppose each other." They are, in other words, "living and life producing ideas, which . . . are essentially one with the germinal causes in nature," and so are "constitutive" of the generative principles which they represent in the realm of awareness.
Coleridge applies the distinction between the overt phenomena of natura naturata (available to sense-observation and ordered into causal uniformities by the understanding) and the underlying generative principle of polarity-in-unity (available only to the Reason) not only in the realms of nature and mind, but in his systematic consideration of all human institutions and all human history, and also in his theoretical analysis of all modes of human productivity, including literature and the other arts. On the paradigm of this same generative principle he conceives also his theology. "One Power manifesting as two forces," in which the unitary power sustains itself without diminution throughout the progressive activities of its two polarities, serves as the ground idea of a triune God, who is Himself the one ground of all process and productivity. And by recourse to the concept of a "faith" that involves an act of the moral will—the "fidelity . . . of the finite will and understanding to the reason . . . as one with, and representative of, the absolute will"—Coleridge attempts to leap the gap which separates a timeless metaphysic from a historical religion, by identifying the second aspect of the triune principle of all being with the Christ of the Scriptures.
This may serve as my rough sketch of the systematic thought that Barfield explicates in detail. I should like now to stress the importance of this general philosophical scheme to our understanding of Coleridge's literary theory, and especially his central concept of the secondary imagination.
To Coleridge all emergent novelty, or "creativity," can only be adequately explained as the results of a vital, generative process of polarities, which separate and individuate only to reunite in a synthetic "third thing" that manifests the "multeity in unity" characteristic of an organized whole. The "secondary Imagination" of the creative poet of genius, as Coleridge describes in the thirteenth and fourteenth chapters of Biographia, is conceived as a manifestation of such a process: it is "essentially vital," it "dissolves" the fixities of sense "in order to recreate," and it is a "synthetic . . . power," in that it "reveals itself" in its product by a reunion of polar elements, "the balance or reconciliation of opposite or discordant qualities." Thus, although it is a consciously creative process of which only the man of genius is capable, the secondary Imagination is identical "in the kind of its agency" with the unconscious creativity by which the "primary Imagination," which is the generic possession of all mankind, brings into being the world of "all human Perception," and ultimately it is also one in kind with "the eternal act of creation in the infinite I Am"—that is, with the primal creative process that continuously brings into being the world both of nature and of mind.
In his understandable concern with demonstrating the elementary principles of Coleridge's systematic thinking, Barfield has neglected to bring out an important feature of the completed system, and that is the overall figure or design described by these elements in the course of their self-starting and self-sustaining evolution. According to Coleridge polarity, in its sustained tension between the pressure out and the pull back—the tendency "perpetually to individuate . . . counteracted by an attempt of nature to recall it again to the common organization"—moves inevitably in a circular course; indeed "organization," he says, "has no other meaning than a power which instead of moving in a straight line as the mechanism does, moves round upon itself in a circle" (Philosophical Lectures, ed. Kathleen Coburn [New York, 1949], 357. This is a circle, however, which ascends at the same time that it turns back upon itself—"the whole process is cyclical tho' progressive" (Collected Letters, ed. E. L. Griggs [Oxford 1956], IV, 769)—so that to Coleridge, as to contemporary German philosophers, all vital process performs a spiral evolution, in a circuitous returns to its point of departure, but on a higher plane of unified diversity.
This spiral design manifests itself in all organized development, not only in the universe, but also in the philosophical system used to describe the universe, and in all vital processes and products of the human faculties. Thus the "science of method" common both to science and to art, Coleridge says, begins with a "mental Initiative" which demonstrates its efficacy as a "germinal" idea by evolving, through the perpetual action and counteraction of polarities, up to the point at which it returns to, incorporates, and so validates at its end its own beginning:
From this we started . . . and it is this whose re-appearance announces the conclusion of our circuit, and welcomes us at our goal. (The Friend, I, 523)
Thus also the process and products of the secondary imagination, since this power, as against the fancy, "is essentially vital" rather than mechanical, manifest a parallel circuitry of organization. As he puts it:
The common end of all narrative, nay of all, Poems is to convert a series into a Whole: to make those events, which in real or imagined History move on in a strait Line, assume to our Understandings a circular motion—the snakes with its Tail in its mouth. (Collected Letters, IV 545)
Coleridge's systematic thought turns out to be consonant with, and to justify, the circuitous design of his best poems, including The Eolian Harp, Frost at Midnight, Dejection: An Ode and The Ancient Mariner—a return-upon-itself in which the end recapitulates its beginning, but on a higher level which incorporates all that has evolved between the beginning and the end.
We must keep in mind another characteristic feature of Coleridge's thought to understand his characteristic procedure in aesthetic and literary criticism. To Coleridge the science "of the sense and the Understanding" was not in itself false but, when operating within its proper bounds, both valid and immensely useful; its fallacy was one of misplaced concreteness, in that it extended an abstract hypothesis, framed to deal solely with physical phenomena, into a concrete and all-inclusive world picture. The "Mechanico-corpuscular Philosophy," as he says, abstracted from corporeal substances all properties except "figure and mobility," and "as a fiction of science, it would be difficult to overvalue this invention." But Descartes and his followers "propounded it as truth of fact: and instead of a World created and filled with productive forces by the Almighty Fiat, left a lifeless Machine whirled about by the dust of his of his own Grinding" (Aids to Reflection [London 1913] 268-69) Coleridge's enterprise is to save the partial truth of this and other philosophical schemes by "such revolution as alters, not by exclusion, but an enlargement that includes the former," seen from a higher "perspective central point." (Anima Poetae [London1895], 142-42; Biographia Literaria, ed. J. Shawcross [Oxford 1907], I, 170). And one persistent tact by which he pursues this aim is to set up a set of doublets, or paired terms, as speculative instruments for use in intellectual investigations. In each doublet the first term is adequate to account only for natura naturata, the phenomenal aspects of nature and those processes and achievements of mind which consist in the reordering and adjustment of the "fixities and definites" of sense-perception. The second term, on the other hand, is necessary to account for natura naturans, the play of contrary forces in everything that is generative, creative, and grows into an organized whole.
These doublets are the bifocal perspectives through which Coleridge examines the natural and human world: understanding and reason, notion and idea, rule and law, mechanical and organic, shape and that serve to distinguish the processes and products of nature and art form, talent and genius, and (especially with reference to literary criticism) copying and imitation, poem and poetry, fancy and imagination. The paired terms, on the pragmatic level, are useful distinctions that serve to distinguish the processes and products of nature and art into two kinds, and by that token into two orders of status or excellence; although Coleridge maintains that they are "distinctions," not "divisions," in that, when viewed from a higher perspective point, the lower mental powers represented in some of these doublets are seen to differ from the higher not in kind but in degree, and the higher powers are seen to involve the co-efficiency of the lower powers which, in their functioning, they necessarily comprehend.

Owen Barfield makes it clear that he speaks not only as an expositor, but as an advocate, since he believes that what Coleridge thinks is true—or more precisely, that it is a notable stage on the way toward the truth later achieved by Rudolf Steiner (see pages 177-178). In this regard Barfield remains faithful to the views he expressed in his first essay on Coleridge forty years ago, in which he put forward the theosophy [sic] of Steiner as the point in intellectual history at which (in the title of the book in which the essay first appeared) Romanticism Comes of Age. In the present book Barfield converts his parti pris into a virtue. It motivates him to entertain with sympathy and understanding philosophical and scientific claims which other commentators, dismayed by their violation of what Barfield calls the "prefabricated grids" of current theoretical prepossessions, reject out of hand. Barfield also employs the admirable method of letting Coleridge speak at some length for himself, in passages selected both from his published works and manuscripts, before going on to explicate and co-ordinate the passages he has quoted. The resulting work will be a standard reference for helping us to establish, from his diverse, tangled, and typically fragmentary writings, what Coleridge, in his own philosophical coming of age, essentially thought.

Paid too much?

The ugly fiction the religious project onto atheists

The ugly fiction the religious project onto atheists