“The most extraordinary thing in the world is an ordinary man and an ordinary woman and their ordinary children." G K Chesterton

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Leisure Chapter 2 , Part A

I haven't read any of the other posts yet so that I may read and write free of influence. I am sorry I am behind.

If you feel daunted my chapter 2, press on. It does make more sense as you go. There is much meat on these bones. I still have no idea what Pieper was saying in the first 3 pages. The light began to go on for me on page 11 of my edition with the passage:

"The medievals distinguished between the intellect as ratio and the intellect as intellectus. Ratio is the power of discursive thought, of searching and re-searching, abstracting, refining, and concluding {cf. Latin dis-currere, "to run to and fro"}, whereas intellectus refers to the ability of "simply looking" (simplex intuitus), to which the truth presents itself as a landscape presents itself to the eye."

This paragraph brought some clarity to a Bible verse that had always confused me. Daniel 12:4 says, "But thou, O Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end: many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased." If these "to and fros" have similar origins then this would not be a sort of anti-intellectual verse after all which is how it was presented to me as I was growing up; rather it would be casting a negative light on a particular kind of knowledge which lacks a spiritual element or an acknowledgment of ultimate truth.

So in the simplest terms possible, this chapter contrasts a purely empirical knowledge with a knowledge that assents to a bigger picture. One sort of knowledge produces pride and the other sort produces humility. Interestingly, while the nature of the empirical is to deny the spiritual, the nature of the spiritual can include the empirical. This is a distinction that should clear up some of the difficulties in approaching the topic of leisure.


In Part B (or C,D,E,.....) I hope to discuss grace and works, and maybe go back to my ideas about a mother's vocation(I think Pieper affirms my stand), and finally I hope to have time to discuss the meaning of work and the liberal arts all of which are covered deftly in the chapter by Pieper.

Now I am off to read your thoughts after which I will pay $1.99 to download last night's episode of House, a man struggling with these very issues.

Leisure: The Basis of Culture Chapter 2

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Leisure: Rabbit Trail #1 Leisure to Learn

This topic can be confusing because we think about leisure in response to certain areas of our lives. And as we talk about it maybe it would be good to distinguish those areas. I think I have a tiny grasp on what Pieper means when he equates schola to leisure. I think I am beginning to understand leisure in learning and the absolute need for it.

This morning we were clipping through MT when we got to practicing using conjunctions in Mother Tongue II (oop). It turned out to be a great review of the other parts of speech because it immediately became clear that one of my children could not remember each of the parts of speech. We spent 20 minutes when I had planned on spending 5 and all the kids participated even Nathaniel who was in the room studying for a college exam. Emily started to get nervous about the time and I made the decision to skip reading Cymbeline this morning in order for us to enjoy what we were learning. I felt confident that real learning had taken place but it was at the cost of my well-laid plans.

So in a way leisure does go back to the word freedom because leisure is related to time. We understand the concept of having free time and we usually think of it in relationship to entertainment.

As homeschoolers we can have the leisure to pursue real learning. The question is: do we have the courage?

The real kicker is that we know that not everyone has this leisure; therefore this kind of education is not for everyone. In this age of public schooling this is something we could think about. It is something that I believe the public schools have already thought about. It may just be that the public schools are not that concerned with true education. In leveling the playing field they insure that no such thing as education is taking place. So what is taking place?

This is something I am thinking about because I am participating in an after school tutorial program at church for underprivileged children. Philosophically it is a struggle for me; it breaks my heart. I am so tempted to just throw out their homework which they can barely do without help and just ask questions or read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. But to what purpose?

Next Rabbit Trail? What does it mean to be servile? Is it bad?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Leisure: The Basis of Culture Chapter 1



Without a doubt, this is going to be an incredible book club experience. We are all going to be bringing such diverse baggage, definitions and history (our own personal story and the history that brings us from Aristotle to today) to the table that I believe the ideas we study in this book will change us, even if we disagree with them.

One of the concepts of the mimetic sequence that Andrew Kern teaches is to always move from the known to the unknown. For the Christian the obvious place to start in understanding Pieper is the idea of sabbath. This opens up plenty for contemplation. For many a sabbath is a negation. It is defined by what we are not doing rather than what we are doing: resting. I think the key to whether the sabbath is a legalistic adherence or a celebration lies in our understanding of rest and leisure. But I am going to have to ponder that for a while.

Interestingly, Pieper says the idea that "we work in order to be at leisure" almost appears as immoral to us. I agree. I am uncomfortable thinking about leisure.

It is going to take some time for me to sort out my thoughts but I am trying to take this all back to my own agrarian experience before I became philosophical. My years of trying to live in the modern world and the pre-Civil War agrarian world at the same time failed miserably, much of the failure centered around servile labor that in the end seemed rather fruitless. Maybe I was just a short-timer. But I think there was more to it than that. Maybe something tied into the concept of works righteousness and pulling myself up by my bootstraps. Maybe. I am still working through it all.

So there you have a tiny drop of the baggage, definitions and history that I am bringing to the table. I would love to hear what baggage, history and definitions you are bringing, if you know. If you don't know now maybe you will know by the end of the book.

HOUSEKEEPING:
We may end up reading more than one chapter a week but not until everyone has gotten their books in the mail and caught up.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Why Poetry II ? or is it Why Poetry? II ?

Isn't life interesting?

This afternoon I ran across this passage:

"As in Auden's measure of the potential poet, the man must want to hang around words in order to overhear them talking to one another. That "hanging around," however, is not a passive occupation. The poet's necessary sensitivity involves a life-time of bringing his joyous attention to the ways in which words whisper to one another."

How Does a Poem Mean? by John Ciardi

Now that's what I am talking about!!!!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Why Poetry?

The Trivium:
Grammar
Logic
Rhetoric


The Quadrivium:

Geometry
Arithmetic
Music
Astronomy

I talk about poetry a lot on this blog. It is true that poetry is a special hobby of mine. I love poetry but over the years as I have studied education and the 7 liberal arts and started to make a few connections, I have seen that poetry is far more than just a sidekick to literature, something for those who find it especially interesting or romantic.

If, as John Hodges said, music should be a part of a school's math and science department then I believe that poetry may technically be the bridge between the trivium and the quadrivium. Poetry becomes the tool that smashes the Cartesian legacy and gives our efforts to educate a soul. This is not just because an individual poem may, in fact, reach into the heart and touch the soul. It is far, far deeper than that.

The first clue we have that maybe we should pay attention to poetry is that our Cartesian world has no time for it.

Poetry is our best tool for developing intuition. Intuition is the tool that helps us leap from one idea to the next until we land on truth. Intuition is a handmaid to every single one of the liberal arts. Intuition is what helps us ask the right questions. The best scientists, artists, musicians, mathematicians, writers and speakers all have this one thing in common. They are each able, in their field, to ask the right questions and make the right connections. Logic, is a great tool, but it cannot help the intuition, in my opinion, without poetry.

How do we teach this using poetry?

We do not begin by analyzing poetry. That is precisely the reason it has floundered in modernity. We begin by always, every day reading poetry, injecting it into our children's lives in any way that we can. Sometimes we talk about the poems we are reading because we love them. Sometimes we may even talk about them so that our children understand why we love them but we never let this deteriorate into modern criticism. We start with Mother Goose and we continue on through childhood and adulthood reading and sharing poetry, not forgetting The Psalms. We never, ever do an 8 week study of poetry as if it were a SUBJECT.

After years and years of reading and loving poetry you and your children will begin to understand from within that words have meaning and that meaning can be precise, that words can convey pictures and those pictures are more powerful than any weapon in the universe, that ideas not only carry the logos and the ethos but also the pathos, that sometimes the idea that isn't stated is the strongest. Poetry can teach us and our children to see through rhetoric, recognize error and meet one another soul to soul.

Apart from God's Word, I cannot imagine a more powerful educational tool. If you must, let go of logic and forget Latin but please don't leave out poetry. You will never get to the quadrivium if you do.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Idiot

No clever title to trick you into reading this post. Last night I finished Dostoevsky's The Idiot and since I don't have anyone to discuss the book with, I am going to talk to myself about it publicly.

Spoilers ahead for readers of Russian novels:

About 9/10ths of the book reads like British farce. I should have reminded myself that I was reading a Russian novel and Russians make a farce of farce. Instead I was tripping merrily through it like it was Eggs, Beans and Crumpets when I suddenly, inexplicably found myself in the last scene of Hamlet. I had forgotten a major reading fact: Vodka changes things. The only thing that could possibly make a Shakespearean tragedy more tragic is thinking your are romping through Arden Forest only to find yourself naked and gouging out your eyes. There you have The Idiot. Be forewarned. I am not saying don't read it, only read it with your eyes wide open.

That said, I did find some similarities between The Idiot and Jayber Crow. As a matter of fact, I wonder if Wendell Berry has read The Idiot. While Jayber is, I think, Berry's idealized Christian man, Prince Muishkin is Dostoevsky's idealized Christian man. Both men are idealized in the way they love others. Jayber loves Mattie Chatam in such a pure way that his love actually redeems an otherwise odd book. In this way I think Berry trumps Dostoevsky because poor Prince Muishkin's pure love seems to actually ruin the book.

Dostoevsky's epileptic hero (Dostoevsky was also an epileptic), ends up drooling in an asylum and I can't help wondering what it all means. Is the author saying that this is what happens to the poor idiot who tries to live according to true Christian principles?

If you have read The Idiot, I would LOVE to talk to you about it.

Interestingly, I know a handful of women, women who I highly respect, who did not like Jayber Crow. While I think that 1/10th of The Idiot brings down the whole show, I think the Maggie Chatam scenes in Jayber Crow are an apology for the whole book.

If you have read Jayber Crow, I would LOVE to talk about that too.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

On the Bedside Table

Since some of you are very bad people and insist on writing me emails with ideas for books to read, I am going to share with you what it looks like on and around my bedside. That would be a one square foot area.

I will put a star * by the books I have actually started to read.

First we have the top of the nightstand:

Here we find two stacks of books:

Stack 1:


Ross Poldark (The Poldark Saga) by Winston Graham *

How Does a Poem Mean by John Ciardi *

Who Needs Classical Music?: Cultural Choice and Musical Value by Julian Johnson. *

This is topped by my iPhone which includes daily readings for me from Dostoevsky's The Idiot, Charles Spurgeon's Morning and Evening, The Psalms, All of William Shakespeare's works of which I am reading the sonnets and Julius Caesar, and finally Plato's Phaedrus.....and a few audio books, Mars Hill Audio and various crossword puzzles. I am attached at the hip to my phone. It is full, full, full of ideas. *

Stack 2:

Fahrenheit 451
by Ray Bradbury I just moved this book there this morning because someone very,very rude wrote and suggested I read it and since I have been thinking about reading it for years I moved it in closer.


The Daily Telegraph's Guide to Good Gardens 2005
(positively worthless but I am a dreamer.)

Over Hill And Dale by Gervais Phinn


The House of Exile: Supplemented Edition (with Return to the House of Exile) by Nora Waln *

The Insulin-Resistance Diet--Revised and Updated: How to Turn Off Your Body's Fat-Making Machine A great book for people who sit around reading and eating chocolate all day which is why it is on the very bottom of the pile. *

This tabletop selection shares space with 2 dead roses, a decorative teacup, lamp, water bottle and a real phone. Each night as I reach over to turn out the lamp I knock the phone and tea cup to the ground because the table is too crowded.

The table drawer has assorted magazines, Acrostic books, reading light and medication for women with a lot of sons. Not Prozac yet just BP meds.

The shelf under the table holds a stack of books and a basket of books.

Basket:

The Best of Myles (John F. Byrne Irish Literature Series) A book I keep bedside in honor of the old Common Reader Catalog.*

Freddy and Fredericka by Mark Helprin He has another book in the area also.


The stack:


The Oxford Book of English Detective Stories
*

Charles Murray's Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, 800 B.C. to 1950

Beside this table is a stack and a basket of books.

The basket contains back issues of Imprimis
and various crossword puzzle books and puzzles along with:

Valley of Vision: A collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions*

A Soldier of the Great War The other Mark Helprin book.


My Utmost for His Highest
by Oswald Chambers *

Cracker Culture: Celtic Ways in the Old South by Grady McWhiney*



The Essays of Elia
by Charles Lamb*

The Final Stack by the wall under the window just within reach:

Expiration Date by Tim Powers

The First and Second Prayer Books of Edward VI*

The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs*

The Christian Imagination: The Practice of Faith in Literature and Writing (Writers' Palette Book) by Leland Ryken. This one really should be moved closer in as it is borrowed.

Figures of Speech: 60 Ways To Turn A Phrase Awesome, awesome little book by Arthur Quinn. Read it for the fun of it.*

Two by CS Lewis:
The Abolition of Man*
Miracles

The Graves Of Academe by Richard Mitchell. Far be it from me to encourage further book buying but if you don't have this book I suggest you flagellate yourself for not paying attention.*


Paideia Program
by Mortimer J Adler played by Cary Grant(not really).


The Pleasures of God by John Piper

Postmillennialism: An Eschatology of Hope by Keith Mathison. I keep this by my bedside because sometimes my relatives call me to discuss the end times. Seriously.*

Small is Still Beautiful: Economics as if Families Mattered by Joseph Pearce*


Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America (America: a Cultural History) David Hackett Fischer

I won't even begin to tell you about the box of books a few feet away and the book on my dresser that is my secret weapon and helps me hang in there with the apprenticeship people.

Oh, and of course, the newest member of the bedside brigade:
Leisure
The Basis of Culture
by Josef Pieper*

Now you know why I am scared when I hear stories of people who die from falling stacks of books. My days are numbered. I also don't enjoy these sorts of exercises because naming all the books I think I am reading makes it apparent that I have deluded myself. I am shattered. Now all I want to do is go sit alone in a dark room, eat chocolate and listen to the Moonlight Sonata. I am ready to reshelve the whole massive collection and start all over which, btw, I have done before, but I have promises to keep.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Math for Liberals or Maybe I Haven't Ruined My Kids

Something that happened recently illustrated to me my own frustration with how I go about educating my children compared to what I truly believe about education.

My son Nathaniel is going into the field of radiation protection. This is a wide open field right now, btw, as the nuclear industry is aging. As most of you know, we are heavy on the liberal arts and poetic knowledge weak on the maths and sciences in our home. I have said it before but it bears repeating, I am very pro math and science but not happy with how those subjects take place in our home. I end up concentrating on our areas of strength hoping that in the future the boys will not be hindered from careers in math or science because of their stronger liberal arts base.

Nathaniel is a naturally good student and because of his desire to marry soon, he has chosen a career in a scientific industry in need of fresh blood. He was hoping to go into construction management but that hardly seems the way to go with all the overbuilding that has taken place in the last 10 years. Sorry, I am just gabbing.

Nathaniel came home from class with homework. Because he had not loaded the scientific calculator CD onto his laptop yet, he did the first problem on his own. It took him 2 hours. Two hours to do one problem. It occurred to me that he learned more in that two hours than in countless hours rushing through entire math lessons trying to get done for the day. It occurred to me that wrestling with one math problem rather than 30 was a more effective way of learning math and certainly a more effective way to learn logic and thinking. I truly wish we (those of us still at home) could somehow jump off the treadmill and really delve into math in this slow, problem-solving way. I know it would transform us; I just don't know how to go about it.

As an aside:

I also thought how nice it will be to have a man working in the sciences with a liberal arts background and the ability to think, write and ask questions. I hope that what I was able to teach Nathaniel well will end up being a nice complement to his scientific studies. So if it sounds like I am bragging, I probably am because I am really proud of Nathaniel. I am also proud of my other children but this post isn't about them.*


* I say this for certain people I know who think if I say something nice about one of my children I must follow that up with goodies all round, a very tedious idea for a mother of 9.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Book Club??

So I think I said we would start a new book mid-September and I know some of y'all wanted to do Leisure The Basis Of Culture
and I said something about The Twilight of American Culture and I am sure a few people have purchased books. Which book did you purchase? I would like to start the posts a week from today with chapter one of one of these books. Opinions, please. Whatever we decide, we can do the other book next.

Speak up if you plan to participate. Remember you can participate by commenting on blog posts, writing blog posts (regularly or sporadically) and reading along. Very informal. I will try to post the Linky thing again.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Socratic Son Rearing

When you read how often I have to go to the DMV, I hope you say a prayer for me. Or maybe you think I am joking or exaggerate, given to hyperbole. Moi? Right this very minute I have a 16yo son who is nagging me for a trip to the DMV to get his license. This will be my 6th driver and I hope a strong warning to you not to have so many children and certainly not to have boys. I can sense that you still think I am joking but do you know that my nice Honda minivan has a gash down both sides? Gash meaning deep crevice. Both sides meaning two different incidents AND two different BOYS. Or maybe you think you will have those nice boys who never go over the speed limit and who always want to know their father's every opinion. You probably won't have a houseful of testosterone looking for a cavalry to lead.

So my advice to you, Mama of boys? Steel yourself. Don't get in a tizzy about every little thing. Save up those tizzies. You are going to need them for when your son punches his brother hard, jumps off a cliff into a pool for the fun of it, disagrees with the most sane commands and (not or) wrecks the car. Remember you are raising men. You can't sit around enjoying Braveheart and then expect your son to sit demurely at your feet seeking words of wisdom. Real men like to crack their skulls against the wall a few times before taking sound advice. Just leave the room until the skull cracking is over and wait patiently until the advice is asked for.

Socratic Son Rearing: Never answer a question that hasn't been asked nor give advice where a need isn't felt. It will be just grasping at the wind and your squeaky voice will become an inoculation against wisdom.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

And Now For Something Completely Different.....

I am jazzed!

Cultivating the Moral Imagination

I did not take a lot of notes during Karen Kern's presentation of the topic: Cultivating the Moral Imagination. Karen spoke with such passion and conviction using examples from her own life and classroom that notes just didn't seem the way to go. You could feel the love she had for her students. She spoke from her heart and I think the Holy Spirit used what she said.

What I am really tempted to do here is talk about Karen. She is one of the quietest, supportive women I have ever met. She truly is the woman behind the man and I am so happy the CiRCE has starting putting her on the speaking agenda.

Karen referred back to Vigen Guroian's excellent book Tending the Heart of Virtue: How Classic Stories Awaken a Child's Moral Imagination. I have read many books on this sort of subject and the theme is not complicated but for some reason this book strikes the clearest note.

Now back to Karen:

* The term moral imagination was first coined by Edmund Burke.

* Moral imagination is that faculty of ethical perception that perceives and embraces truth, goodness and beauty whose end is the cultivation of wisdom and virtue.

* Popular culture has too great a hold of our souls.

* You tell a story because a statement is inadequate.
* It is the literature we read with the least effort which the most insidious.

I put those two statements together because I think we could spend a long time discussing what it means to tell a story and why we must train our children to higher and higher levels of thinking through great stories.

* Karen encouraged us to use Socratic Dialogue with young students. I have been reading about that which is called Classical Education for at least 30 years but I am just now coming to understand the great importance of asking questions. I have always instinctively known that teaching was not learning, that you could'nt just konk the student on the head with knowledge, but I never understood that questions were the keys that unlocked the door to the students' minds. As I said on the LTW Mentor list (A Yahoo list that you can join if you hope to use LTW), I feel like I have been given a magic trick.

* Finally and most importantly, Karen worded an age old question in a slightly new way. Instead of asking if a movie or book or song is appropriate, we should be asking "Is it appropriate for their souls?" That means we will be moving away from the concept of how many cuss words are in this movie to how insidious is the meta-physic. This is a convicting standard. In this sense a movie with a few bad words might make the cut over, say, a High school Musical. This concept's new wording clarified for me just what we were asking when we ask, "Is it appropriate."
I know at least one mom who immediately called her children to apologize for what she had allowed them to watch. I am a bit slower than that. I am still thinking about what the word appropriate means. I hope that thinking about this new idea for a while will rearrange some of the choices I make for my family.

Have you seen any life-giving, soul-stirring movies lately?

What does the word appropriate mean? When I came home from CiRCE 3 years ago, I brought the word contemplation with me and it hasn't left me since. This year, in keeping with the theme of the nature of things, I brought home the word propriety. I am counting on the idea behind the word to change me.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Words Glorious Words

I had a hard time sleeping last night. I read a few pages of John Ciardi (The Words of Poetry from How Does a Poem Mean?) before bed. I dreamed words. I was happy.

We all know that words have 'denotations' or dictionary definitions and they are fine as far as they go, but words are so much more than that. Ciardi points out that a particular word has 'connotations' that include the feelings it evokes, the history it brings to the table, the muscles it moves and finally the pictures it evokes or should evoke. Of course, this explains my recent troubles with the word vocation. I am a connotation kind of girl.

Ciardi, that beautiful man, points out that technically words do not have synonyms. Isn't that a wonderful thing to say?

Take the word tyrant. A strict dictionary definition tells us that a tyrant is one who has taken power by their own means as opposed to hereditary or constitutional power. But the connotation has the full force of history behind it. The emotional impact of the word tyrant can include everything from the benevolence of Julius Caesar to the hideousness of Josef Stalin and the poet can bring all of this to the table or only some as he becomes the selector of words.

Ciardi also says,
"... with few exceptions every word traced back far enough is either a metaphor or an onomatopoeia"
Can you see why I couldn't sleep?

He goes on to say that poetry is more closely aligned to music than denotation and for those of you interested in that discussion I would suggest you read Ciardi. If you are at all interested in words do read Ciardi.

This may be where we get differences in definitions. Rick pointed out that strictly speaking 'amuse" did not mean 'without inspiration' but to say that being 'amused' is being uninspired certainly brings an appropriate word picture to mind. In some sense a word's denotation and connotation may not be synonymous. This is one of the things that makes words such jolly good fun. You can read Milton or Shakespeare, PG Wodehouse or Dorothy Sayers on one level and they are good on that level but every once in a while you catch a glimpse of something else going on and that is where all the real fun is. It is also good for us to banter words around and hash them out when we disagree. It can only help us get to know a word better.

That is why there is no such thing as utilitarian poetry. The fact that poetry is rarely based on denotation keeps it from becoming utilitarian, which brings me to the poem of the day by that philosophical agrarian John Crowe Ransom.


Blue Girls


Twirling your blue skirts, travelling the sward

Under the towers of your seminary,

Go listen to your teachers old and contrary

Without believing a word.



Tie the white fillets then about your hair

And think no more of what will come to pass

Than bluebirds that go walking on the grass

And chattering on the air.



Practise your beauty, blue girls, before it fail;

And I will cry with my loud lips and publish

Beauty which all our powers shall never establish,

It is so frail.



For I could tell you a story which is true;

I know a lady with a terrible tongue,

Blear eyes fallen from blue,

All her perfections tarnished—yet it is not long

Since she was lovelier than any of you.


John Crowe Ransom

If we want to help our children to love poetry then we must immerse them in words. The more they are immersed the more likely they will be to catch the history, muscles, feelings and pictures of the words they read, the more connections they will make and the more fun they will have.

Let the party start!!

Monday, September 07, 2009

Vocation: Things in Their Being?

"A tree gives glory to God by being a tree. For in being what God means it to be it is obeying [God]. It ‘consents,’ so to speak, to [God's] creative love. It is expressing an idea which is in God and which is not distinct from the essence of God, and therefore a tree imitates God by being a tree.

The more a tree is like itself, the more it is like [God]. If it tried to be like something else which it was never intended to be, it would be less like God and therefore it would give [God] less glory….

This particular tree will give glory to God by spreading out its roots in the earth and raising its branches into the air and the light in a way that no other tree before or after it ever did or will do…."
Thomas Merton New Seeds of Contemplation

The son of a friend of mine read me this quote today as we discussed 'vocation.' Isn't it lovely?
As far as vocation means 'things in their identity' then I agree that motherhood could be a vocation but I still maintain that the word leaves me cold.
AW Tozer also gets close to what I am thinking in The Pursuit of God when he talks about not separating the sacred and the secular.

Jesus is the I AM and I am in Him. The rest is silence.

One of my favorite themes from poetry is the idea of a flower blushing unseen.

Here is Wordsworth's use of the metaphor:

She dwelt among the untrodden ways
Beside the springs of Dove,
A Maid whom there were none to praise
And very few to love:

A violet by a mossy stone
Half hidden from the eye!
Fair as a star, when only one
Is shining in the sky.


She lived unknown, and few could know
When Lucy ceased to be;
But she is in her grave, and, oh,
The difference to me!

And here is Thomas Gray's use of the concept from his hauntingly beautiful Elegy:

Perhaps in this neglected spot is laid
Some heart once pregnant with celestial fire;
Hands, that the rod of empire might have sway'd,
Or waked to ecstasy the living lyre.

But Knowledge to their eyes her ample page
Rich with the spoils of time did ne'er unroll;
Chill Penury repress'd their noble rage,
And froze the genial current of the soul.

Full many a gem of purest ray serene
The dark unfathom'd caves of ocean bear:
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.


So maybe where I have failed to communicate the metaphor will.

Can there be anything more contrary to modern thought than a flower wasting its sweetness on the desert air? There is enough philosophy in that line to fill a lifetime of notebooks.

For me vocation carries the concept of looking around to see who is watching while I prefer to look at what I do as for an audience of one. I understand that the original meaning of the word did not imply this.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

The Nature of the Arts by John Hodges

I have been feeling guilty about all the good stuff from the CirCE Conference I didn't share. This session by John Hodges was probably my favorite session of the week. I missed James Daniels's The Incarnation of Christ and its Implications for Teaching in order to hear John Hodges. I later heard that James's session was excellent which was no surprise. Thankfully, you can buy both sessions.

Highlights to whet your appetite:

* The arts have now become utilitarian, mere entertainment.

* Taste is cultivated. We learn to distinguish the excellent from the mediocre.

* Animals can not feel AWE like we do.

* All Art is communication

* Beauty is according to Aquinas 1. Unity 2. Proportion 3. Clarity

* Beauty is God in the same way truth is or goodness is. Therefore beauty (a glimpse of God) creates in us a longing. This longing is a longing for God.

* John had an excellent discussion on how singing inspires all human activity but I don't feel that I can translate that here.

* Amuse: A=Negate Muse=refers to the 9 muses (inspiration). Therefore, being amused is to be 'not inspired.'

* Cultivating taste is hard work. John shared a story of how his son listened to music that John didn't especially appreciate but that John used that as a introduction to discuss music with his son, not bash his son's music. This was a comforting story for the room full of moms wondering if they should go home and stomp on the iPods.

* The Arts should be a part of the Math department.

* Finally, John gave 3 things in the arts that educated persons traditionally knew. I have rearranged our MT selections based on John's recommendations. An educated person should know:

1. Shakespeare's works
2. Rembrandt, especially the self-portraits
3. Bach's Mass in B Minor

You must get the CD to hear John's stirring explanation of the Mass in B Minor.

There is nothing of the snobby aesthete about John. His genuine love of art and music shines through every word he says. He is down to earth and friendly. He makes you long to love what is good rather than take up affectations.