Thursday, July 16, 2009

Roger Scruton on Anxiety and Architecture

I have not read Roger Scruton's The Aesthetics of Architecture but I assume he more fully develops the point he makes in this interview:
One must think of the people who really use a building, who are those who pass it by. They don't know anything about the structure. But they do jolly well know the impact of that fa├žade. Just think of what's involved in going through a doorway, and the difference between a sheet of glass which you can't actually identify the handle of, and something which arches over you and guides you in.

These elementary experiences are part of the difference between a building which welcomes and a building which creates anxiety. Nobody can deny that modern cities are increasingly places of great anxiety. And if you don't think architecture is one reason for this, it's because you don't have any eyes.

I have never made this connection between anxiety and architecture, but if it is accurate, I think it could be a good criticism of contemporary architecture. The Louvre entrance is arguably the best example of a confusing entrance; the Louvre's multiple glass pyramids that cover an underground entrance are worse than a simple sheet of glass with a hidden handle.

Later in the interview, Scruton says that if it is true that our lives are ones of anxiety, it would be the purpose of architecture to strengthen our lives in the face of anxiety; to simply reinforce this position, Scruton claims, is to show contempt for human beings.

If this is at all interesting, or if you want to hear Scruton briefly talk about liberalism, conservatism, deconstructionism, or pornography read the interview at

Please note that the interview has two pages to it; the link for the second page is at the bottom of the first.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Living with the Old Grandpa: Chesterton on the Family

I am not exactly sure who G.K. Chesterton has in mind in his chapter "On Certain Modern Writers and the Institution of the Family" in his book Heretics; it could be Kipling with his importance about travel or Virginia Woolf with her membership in the sexually free Bloomsbury Group. The idea Chesterton is attacking is what is significant, as long as the idea of the family for modern writers is actually representative of what his opponents claim.

The claim made about the family by 'certain modern writers,' according to Chesterton, is that "the family is not always very congenial." From this, they would argue that because it is not a place where people live harmoniously with the same disposition, it should be abandoned. Instead of arguing against the first proposition, which is what Chesterton claims the defenses of the family at his time attempted, Chesterton accepts it as true. The family is an uncongenial place, and this is the reason why it is a good institution.

It is good because it conditions one to deal with the rest of the world. "The best way that a man could test his readiness to encounter the common variety of mankind would be to climb down a chimney into any house at random, and get on as well as possible with the people inside. And that is essentially what each one of us did on the day that he was born." The brother who is not interested in our religious life, the Uncle who dislikes theater, the sister who has theatrical ambitions, the Aunt who is unreasonable, the Father who is excitable, the brother who is mischievous, or the Grandpapa who is old and stupid are all examples he uses to show the variety and difficulty of the family. The family is a microcosm of the world. It is a lie to think that by escaping it one is entering a "larger" world. The person who only lives or talks to people she chooses inhabits a false reality. As Chesterton says, "there is nothing really narrow about the clan; the thing which is really narrow is the clique."

Because it is not chosen, Chesterton sees the family which is given to each person as romantic; it comes to us. It forces us to encounter things that we do not like or do not expect. "To be in a romance is to be in uncongenial surroundings. To be born into this earth is to be born into uncongenial surroundings, hence to be born into a romance."

If you wish to purchase Heretics avoid the edition by Quiet Vision Press as my pages fell out after my first time reading through the book.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Happy Pascal

Today, June 19, is the 386th birthday of mathematician, scientist, and philosopher Blaise Pascal. His most famous work is arguably his Pensees (i.e., 'thoughts' in French), although it is unfinished and consists of many fragments that leave the reader wondering what direction Pascal intended. Nonetheless, merely by skimming through some pages you cannot come away without his attentiveness to the human person, which I think comes, at least in part, from St. Augustine (he is quoted frequently).

The following is an example:

"Truth is so darkened nowadays, and lies so established, that unless we love the truth we will never know it" (Pensees, XXXVI, 617).

This quotation is related to Book XXXII, section 18 in this Augustine work.

If one does not love the truth, then one will never know what is true. Pascal is saying, I believe, that the person cannot use only his/her rational faculties and expect to have complete knowledge of reality; the whole person, not simply one's rationality, needs to establish a relationship with truth.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Auden and Behaviourism

W.H. Auden has different collections of short statements conveniently called "Shorts." This one is from "Shorts II" in his Collected Poems edited by Mendelson.

"If all our acts are conditioned behaviour, then so are our theories:
yet your behaviourist claims his is objectively true."

Rather than offer my own commentary at the moment I will allow whoever reads this to think it over and respond if you like. I would simply like to add that it would be necessary to ascertain whether or not this is an accurate representation of Behaviourism.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Name That is Above Every Name

I enjoy the series offered by The Teaching Company. I was fortunate enough to pick up Phillip Cary's "Philosophy and Religion in the West" for about $1.50 at a library sale. He brought up an interesting connection that I never made, or ever have heard anyone make, in Philippians 2:6-11.

In the NIV these verses are structured as though they were a poem; this is because, according to Cary, these verses were quoted by Paul from an early Christian hymn. Cary's focus is primarily on verse 9, "Therefore God exalted him (Jesus) to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name."

For a first century Jew, and well, anyone familiar with the Old Testament, this is a very bold claim. What is the name that is above every name? Cary points out (correctly?) that Jesus' name is being identified with God's covenant name, YHWH, from the Old Testament. Some of my favorite passages in the Bible are from the Gospel of John with the various "I am" statements by Christ: "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life," "I am the good shepherd," "I am the vine," and "before Abraham was born, I am!" Christ's statements when connected with the specific name given in Exodus 3:14, "I am who I am," provide a rich context. The hymn in Philippians 2 is another example of this.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Living a Christian Life

Apparently and unfortunately, 20th Century German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer is often regarded as a disbeliever in the Resurrection of Christ, despite the many examples that would suggest the contrary. However, this post is not focused on whether or not one can consider him a Christian, since I am unaware of any serious objections to the fact. I would gladly welcome if anyone could point me in the direction of some primary source text, within its context.

Regardless, one may be thankful for the insight provided in Bonhoeffer's Ethics, the second section of "The Last Things and the Things Before the Last." Concerning the Christian's life, Bonhoeffer distinguishes between the ultimate and the penultimate; the former is the justification by grace and faith alone and the latter is the good works that follow from the ultimate.

How are these two related? One common approach is what Bonhoeffer calls "Radicalism." The radical only sees the ultimate; it disregards the penultimate. Radicalism hates what is established, such as creation (129). This is dangerous because it leads to bitterness, suspicion and contempt for men and the world (129); love is only extended to the "closed circle of the devout."

Bonhoeffer labels the other common approach a "Compromise." The compromise concentrates on the penultimate but ignores the ultimate. The way things are at the moment is what is of the most importance. "Compromise always springs from the hatred of the ultimate" (129). The world (creation) must "be protected against [the] encroachment on their territory" (129). Compromise hates the word, but Radicalism hates the real.

Neither of these approaches are correct but there is a solution and Bonhoeffer sees it in Christ. "In Jesus Christ there is neither radicalism nor compromise" (128). There are three reasons why Christ is the solution: 1) His Incarnation, 2) His Crucifixion, and 3) His Resurrection. The Incarnation shows us God's love for His creation, the Crucifixion shows us God's judgment on all flesh, and the Resurrection shows us God's will for a new world. As you can see, the Incarnation rejects radicalism and Christ's crucifixion and resurrection shows the error of a compromise. "There could be no greater error than to tear these three elements apart" (130), which Bonhoeffer thoroughly explains in more detail.

Being mindful of these three important aspects of Christ's life is a part of living one's life in God's will, where humanity's origin is recovered (34). Dante is right: " E'n la sua voluntade e nostra pace" (In His will is our peace) (Paradiso, Canto III, 85).

The page references are from this edition of Ethics.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Advice from Rainer Maria Rilke

I read Rainer Maria Rilke's book Letters to a Young Poet last summer and forgot that I had taken some notes in a word document. I think there are many important points here but I think that number 2 has had the biggest impact on my own views toward writing; motivation is extremely important and when there is an exhaustible motivation the desire to write will fade. "Must I write?" is a question each writer must ask him/herself.

1. Writing must have individual quality

2. Go inside yourself

Discover the motive that bids you to write

Ask “must I write?”

“A work of art is good if it is grown out of necessity.”

“Go into yourself and explore the depths whence your life wells forth; at its source you will find the answer to the question whether you must create.”

3. Draw near to nature

4. Avoid familiar and usual forms

“For great and fully matured strength is needed to make an individual contribution where good and in part brilliant traditions exist in plenty.”

5. Turn from common themes to those themes of your personal life

6. Depict your sorrows, desires, passing thoughts, and belief in beauty with heartfelt sincerity through images that surround yourself.

7. Turn your attention to childhood memories.

8. Do not be governed by irony

At the depths of things irony never descends

Use it if it springs from a necessity of your being

9. “Patience is all!”

10. Live with the questions in yourself

11. Love your solitude

12. Be near things which will not desert you

13. Hold to the difficult

14. “Only those sorrows are dangerous and bad which we carry about among fellows in order to drown them.”

15. Concentrate on the object rather than personal feelings about the object.

Purchase the book at Amazon.