December 01, 2015

Noonan, Kirk, and the Local Diner


Potent line from new Russell Kirk bio:
"Just as the Incarnate Word voluntarily suffered for the goodness of the universe, he concluded, so we should voluntarily suffer for one another.”
This line also hit me:
[Kirk] was not a systematic thinker. As traditional advocates of the classical liberal arts tradition, Babbitt and Kirk rejected all systems as not only impossible to attain but dehumanizing.
This reminded me of what Avery Dulles wrote about how St. John Paul II saw the systematizer St. Thomas Aquinas:
“While enthusiastically affirming the teaching of Thomas Aquinas on most points, he took note of one weakness. St. Thomas paid too little attention to the human person as experienced from within. In a paper on “Thomistic Personalism” delivered in 1961 he declared:
…[w]hen it comes to analyzing consciousness and self-consciousness—there seems to be no place for it in St. Thomas’ objectivistic view of reality. In any case, that in which the person’s subjectivity is most apparent is presented by St. Thomas in an exclusively—or almost exclusively—objective way. He shows us the particular faculties, both spiritual and sensory, thanks to which the whole of human consciousness and self-consciousness—the human personality in the psychological and moral sense—takes shape, but that is also where he stops. Thus St. Thomas gives us an excellent view of the objective existence and activity of the person, but it would be difficult to speak in his view of the lived experiences of the person.
Wojtyla was satisfied that St. Thomas correctly situated the human person in terms of the general categories of being, as an individual subsisting in an intellectual nature. But he wished to enrich Thomas’s doctrine of the person by reference to our experience of ourselves as unique ineffable subjects. Each person is an “I,” an original source of free and responsible activity.
Free will is not overly attractive given human perversity, and grace uber alles isn't attractive because it leads to double predestinationism.  Sort of reminds me of: "We played the pipe for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn."

Systemizing can feel liberating but ultimately confining: liberating because it's natural to long for a comprehensive understanding, to limit mystery in the thirst for answers. But confining because you feel an individual loss of control, a loss of freedom somehow. Inchoately, I write.

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Headed down Cincy way for Thanksgiving and listened to The Catholic Guy Lino Rulli's Thanksgiving dinner. Light entertainment ideal for an entertainment-full eve.

Brought a pecan pie from Der Dutchman and I was mesmerized by the thought of eating such authentic pie. Sweet as the dickens and crust like magic.

Later I compulsively watched Lino's periscope of his in-laws party (they're of German heritage, with a name that translated sounds like “Nine, but…”. Too cool to watch a periscope of Lino's periscope (how meta) - as one of the guests at the party was periscoping Lino! Got a better view of his girlfriend in that one.

The next morning we headed to breakfast at a mom & pop diner of singular personality and “Hamiltucky” atmosphere. Decor was a cross between redneck mancave (fish on the wall) and Baptist piety (wood-carved religious imagery). But also a dash of the eccentric, with a large picture of a racetrack taken in black and white with the word “Relax” above it.

Post-breakfast we headed to Half-Price Books where they were having a 20% off sale and I practically began salivating when I saw a black beauty: a compact 1966 Jerusalem Bible in shiny black leather. The $50 price tag was painful but confirmation of what a jewel I held in my hot little hands. I bought it on the theory that I would regret not buying it too much not to buy it.  When commercialism meets the spiritual, look out.  It gives me chills it's so cool. A glorious little number, it's the sleek hotrod of bibles both in terms of translation and form.

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I love Peggy Noonan with every fiber of my readerly being, and the following, from her on Tennessee Williams, is an antidote to my pride, and to my feeling that it was tragic and unbecoming that Willie Mays (to use one example) played long past his prime:
 "Up until the end, Tennessee Williams got up every morning and wrote. He was 72 and long past his prime, long past his great moments. But he got up every morning and sat at the typewriter and wrote. That was his work. He wrote. And in the last 20 years of his life it couldn’t have been easy for him because his great triumphs were behind him and he knew no one was going to applaud when he got up. He knew what they’d say about his newest plays. They were going to say “Ah, his genius has abandoned him, he’s lost it, he’s not up to par.” He knew the critics would say this because he’d written masterpieces, Streetcar and Glass Menagerie, and his name had grown so big and the expectation had grown so heavy. Every play had to be a masterpiece. And of course that was not possible because talent is finite; it is not endless. Even a genius gets only so much genius. And if you live a long life, as he did, you will probably use your genius up. Other artists have reached this point and picked up a rifle, jumped off a ship or opened the oven door. Others have hung on to become talk-show intellectuals or sit in fat chairs and sell wine on TV. But Tennessee Williams never sold out, and he didn’t check out early. He got up every morning and wrote. For this alone you could call his life a triumph."
Because for me, sadly, the greatest tragedy is to embarrass oneself. Because I care what others think of me. Because I am proud. The greater risk is not to have tried at all, rather than to have tried too long.

I've always had a love/hate relationship with work, although it's safe to say that by "love" I mean "hate". There's this wondrous tension between work as a good and work as an idol. Between the American tendency to define people by what they do rather than who they are

They always say that on your death bed you won't be saying, "I wish I'd spent more time working on spreadsheets at the office!"  Which seems a healthy enough notion.  But Noonan tweeted, approvingly, this story of a woman who wanted to die at work, and there's something inspiring about it.  Probably because her job involves serving people so directly.  St. John Paul went out of this world similarly, giving that unforgettable address at the window during which he could scarcely speak. 

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