Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Patron Saint of Evolutionary Biology and the corps glorieux in Krasiński's Letters to Delfina Potocka

Perusing Zygmunt Krasiński's Letters to Delfina Potocka written towards the end of 1839, a striking juxtaposition comes into sight: between the pathos of romantic suffering and the gravity of Christian melancholy.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Conradic Ethos

As one nears the conclusion of Joseph Conrad's masterpiece, Nostromo, one is struck by the author's sweeping summaries of important political themes, advanced throughout the novel by way of character studies. These summaries tell us more about the Polish mind than we might at first imagine and give us a glimpse of what we might call the Conradic ethos.

шара́шка: Nasza Szaraszka - Our Shades of Grey

While I realize that the setting of Solhzenitzyn's First Circle is an experimental design and research bureau made up of intelligentsia who once inhabited gulags, I cannot help my mind from racing towards comparing the  "шара́шка" to the modern world we inhabit.

"Szaraszka" (the Polish translation from the Russian) roughly translates into "grey world" in English and connotes the Russian etymology which apparently suggests an ad hoc, disorganized and random group of trouble makers. The шара́шка is indeed grey, indescript - a type of moderation that is less of a virtuous mean between extremes and more of an average of all vicious extremes.

This hasty comparison on my part is the result of both experience and erudition which have led me to conclude with Evelyn Waugh that the Nazi and Communist totalitarianisms were the embodiment of a radical modernism which, having overwhelmed the old world like a tidal wave, have now settled into the deluge of contemporary democratic life. Or, to pose my hypothesis in the form of a question: do we all now live in Sohlzenitzyn's poorly organized, bungling шара́шка? 

The question is not without merit. Alexander Kojeve, (the brilliant Russian philosopher who pretended to be a Frenchman in order to make himself more palpatable to Western sensibilities), opined in the Strauss-Kojeve correspondence contained in On Tyranny that The United States of America are a model communist country in many ways. One ought not have to go into the details of these comparisons; it is enough to merely note that liberalism, communism and fascism are all variations upon modernity. 

If the "szaraszka" is a more humane stage of communist totalitarianism than its Siberian predecessor (the taiga), then could the modern world we now inhabit be an even more advanced and complex form of a more humane stage of totalitarianism? We do not, I think, appreciate just how radically totalitarianism succeeded in completely sweeping away the old world. We often view the totalitarian regimes of the early twentieth century from the perspective of their failures to build utopian ideals in practice - but never from the perspective of their vast success in annihilating the previous world. Human culture itself was altered - for the worse - and the repricussions of the radical totalitarianism which swept our planet in the early twentieth century will be with us for quite some time.

One repricussion, immediately visible in Sohlzenitzyn's prose, is the mixing of cultures into a common surrealism and absurdity. The German zeks and their Jewish Communist counterpart, though they began their journey in life on radically opposing sides of the totalitarian divide, are now all prisoners together. They have not so much discovered their common humanity as they have traveled across the very thin line dividing totalitarian moral absolutism from totalitarian moral nihilism. Their journey was from utopian idealism to surrealistic absurdity. This is essentially the journey that the entire human race was taken on by modern totalitarianism. Like the Germans and the Jew, we too are now caught in our absurd little шара́шка.

We instinctively recoil at the suggestion that the fate of the zeks has anything to do with our lives today. We take solace in the idea that In the First Circle is autobiographical, and as such a good opportunity to make ourselves feel good about "Western democracy" or "Western freedom" while taking pity on poor Solhzenitzyn and others for suffering such horrible tyranny. Yet we would be doing a profound injustice to Solhzenitzyn as a thinker if we convinced ourselves that his aim was merely to reflect upon the dismal state of Soviet life. Some examples suffice to demonstrate the point:

"All free workers in this building were officers of the Interior Ministry. Free workers, according to the constitution, had a variety of rights, amongst others the right to work. Yet this right was limited to eight hours a day. Furthermore, their work was not the productive multiplication of goods, but was limited to monitoring the zeks. On the other hands, zeks, who were deprived of all other rights, had a greater right to work than free workers. Zeks had the right to work twelve hours a day. This difference - with the addition of supper breaks (so from six in the morning until eleven at night) had to be made up by free workers in rotating shifts, since it was necessary to maintain oversight of the zeks."
 If this is a description of a more humane Soviet prison- then we can safely say that most of the modern world is simply a more humane Soviet prison, and we are all zeks and free workers. The question really does become who is better and who worse off? The zeks - or the free workers? Don't the constitutions of all of the modern "liberal democracies" ooze with rights of all sorts - including the right to work? And isn't work - particularly productive work - exactly what is lacking in modern "liberal democratic" societies? Aren't those of us who are "free workers" compelled in fact to work more than a mere eight hours - despite the promise of an eight hour day? And to what extent is our work really productive? Are we not simply overseers of the zeks of our time?

Who are the zeks of our time? They are likewise the intellectuals - the intelligensia - without patronage or social status - the zeks of the modern democratic world are not so visible as those in Solhzenitzyn's book. They have not been rounded up in one place in a rather disorganized attempt to make use of them. Instead, they are dispersed and relatively useless to society at large. This goes not only for our humanists (who have always been considered useless to society at large despite their great use as political philosophers who imagine and shape the best regime and the best citizens), but men of science as well. For how does the modern world engage our men of science? Are they engaged primarily in the advancement of space exploration, medicine, education, housing and the like - or in the creation of new past times and pleasures which serve to satisfy and placate entire populations to maintain a dull order akin to the order of the шара́шка?


"Towards the end of their education, the girls did not really know mathematics or physics very well (they realized in their senior years that the school directors would routinely berate teachers who failed students, forcing them to give passing grades..."

How is this essentially different from the educational system generally prevalent in the developed world? We too all have the right to an education and young people are obliged to finish school up to a certain age. The grim reality is that not everyone is capable of excelling and thus standards are lowered and pressure applied on teachers and academics to allow for the nominal passage of generation after generation of students through the school system.

One could go on. One could also recoil against the tendency to associate Sohlzenitzyn's prose with the modern world, to make of them merely a report about a specific time and place, a condemnation of Soviet tyranny. But the title itself, the author's own aspirations to tie his autobiography with the theme of suffering in Dante's First Circle, that is with a universalized contemplation of human suffering appears (in my view) to demand of us as readers that we do not shy away from seeking the essential outlines of totalitarianism in Sohlzenitzyn's work and then holding them up to our own times in order to ask whether or not we are indeed free - or simply further along the path from the depths of totalitarian evil towards a more humane tyranny?

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Who are the Hungarians?

"Ever since I was a child, I've always been in the wars."
"That's alright then. That's how Hungarians have lived since the beginning of the world."
Where do Hungarian heroes come from?
-Eclipse of the Crescent Moon


Friday, July 7, 2017

First Circle: First Impressions

There is a distinct familiarity to Sohlzenitzyn's prose in The First Circle. There is the type of dark humor that Poles are accustomed to in the cinematography of Bareja, there is a sense of surrealism that is almost Kafkaesque and finally there is that unique moral clarity that Sohlzenitzyn brings to totalitarianism on account of his literary realism rooted above all in the idea of always telling the truth.

Friday, June 16, 2017

A Mirror Upon Our Vices: Shakespeare's Hamlet

Image result for hamletWhereas Julius Caesar is my favorite Shakespeare play on account of its' magnificent presentation of Western virtues, Hamlet is by far Shakespeare's most enduring presentation of Western vices. For what else is going on in Hamlet but the systematic renunciation of Christian morality in personal and state life and the simultaneous casual undertaking of war against Poland - the Christ of Europe?

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Meditations on Cat's Years of Hope

Image result for lata nadziei cat mackiewicz"All revolutions are amoral and sadistic - the French, the Bolshevik, the Nazi revolution...Social movements are born from Christ's teaching to love thy neighbor, but all revolutions renounce Christ..."
- Stanisław Cat Mackiewicz,

Years of Hope, p.110 Germany, Aphorism II

"I am of the same opinion as those who proclaim that the moral rebirth of nations is only possible through a return to the teachings of Christ"
- Stanisław Cat Mackiewicz,
Years of Hope, p.110 Germany, Aphorism III

Sunday, June 11, 2017

What Kind of Man is Nostromo?

What do we make of a man like Nostromo at the end of Book II of Conrad's epic South American novel? Above all we must recognize that he is the necessary associate of all revolutions. Pride cometh before the Fall: Nostromo appears always just prior to the revolution devouring its children.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Petronius in Heaven?

Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.
- William Wordsworth
The World is Too Much With Us

Friday, June 9, 2017

The Case of Kryspus: A Time for All Things

Image result for kryspus quo vadisKryspus is one of the greatest characters in Sienkiewicz's Quo Vadis because if the purpose of well-constructed characters in literature is to deepen our understanding of the art of being human, then few fulfill this function as well as the fanatical Christian zealot.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

When Nero married Pythagoras: The Last Act in the Death of The West

Image result for nero i pythagorasI cannot help but return for a moment to the last political battle of the so-called "culture wars" in the United States; the debate over "gay marriage" as I re-read Quo Vadis and ponder Petronius's exclamation that Rome had reached bottom when the Emperor married his boy - the last event prior to Rome collapsing in flames. Is this where the West is today?

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Best Book Ever Written about the West


Image result for vinicius and lygiaQuo Vadis is the best book ever written about the West. It represents what is best in the West, and in that sense it is an American book, whose author was generally inspired by the American frontier in some of his other works no less than by Greek and Roman history in this one. Yet it is also a book which shows us very plainly that the West is indeed infected with a terrible sickness - a sickness that we would like to think was contained in Nero's character and receded into the past with the adoption of Christianity by all of Europe.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Faulkner & Chłopski Rozum

Personal experience is a terrible burden on the conscience when it runs so contrary to what passes for gritty realism in modern literature. Faulkner's As I Lay Dying no doubt invites us to consider the relation between poverty and morality insofar as the Bundren family are concerned. In theory, it seems a logical presumption that poverty is related to a lack of education, which in turn makes moral invalids of people - yet in practice, this is simply not true.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Hamletizing

Hamlet's dilemmas, so profound at one level, are so utterly mundane at another. If Hamlet embodies Western Man (and he does), can we really say that the West is a fundamentally Christian culture?

Friday, May 26, 2017

As I Read Faulkner


Image result for faulkner as i lay dying book"Both books are autocommentaries on the subject of death. In the former I found the fear of death, a fear manifested by the constant nonchalant provocation of death. The latter book features the acceptance of death as the fundamental fate of the human person. I prefer the latter comportment. Reminding ourselves of death is always useful, even if doing so does not always lead to salvation. The recollection of death restores the correct hierarchy between things in order of importance. It invites pondering life from the proper perspective. It makes banal truths fresh again."
-Henryk Krzeczkowski On 2 unnamed books by Hemingway & Faulkner

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Face Book contra The Great Book

Amongst the more obtuse things Gombrowicz wrote in his diaries, few are as unjust as his opinion that the author of Quo Vadis was a "first rate second rate writer."

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Bacchanalia avec Daudet

Many years ago, before the dawn of Google Translate, I spent a long calm summer with an English-French dictionary and André Malreux's La Tentation de l'Occident. It was an exercise in futility, I remember almost nothing brilliant and can only say that Malraux kept alive my dying French.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Krzeczkowski's Faulkner

Henryk Krzeczkowski's thoughts on Faulkner and other Anglo-American authors are Spartan insofar as he seperates the Men from the Boys.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Is Universalism a Weakness in Shakespeare?

Poor Shakespeare. He suffers what so often is the fate of all great writers: the reputations of centuries of relative mediocrities have been built on explaining his greatness to us. Thus a prejudice has come into effect that only an illiterate or an enemy of culture would dare question the value of Shakespeare, presumably defying a tradition incorrectly considered Shakespearian when it is in reality the tradition of Shakespeare "experts."

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Blundering into Dishonour


There is a great strain of self-awareness in national literature which unfortunately poses little danger of penetrating the national psyche. Evelyn Waugh's writing is a prime example.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Conrad, politics, Dostoyevsky

"Mr. Kurtz, he dead."
- Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

"Smerdyakov hanged himself an hour ago"
-Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov XI/9 The Devil Ivan Fyodorovich's Nightmare

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Ignatiun Spirituality and the Error of Intellectualization


Image result for pope francis ignatiusReflecting with Father Józef Augustyn SJ on the subject of St. Ignatius's Spiritual Exercises, one quickly realizes what it is that the modern world cannot understand about Pope Francis's approach to Western European civilization. Western rationalism, so firmly encrusted in Catholic dogma that it remains the basis of anti-Catholic dogma, is aimed at the intellect, but not at the spirit.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Polish dilemmas in Conrad's Nostromo

Image result for dabrowski marching from italy"He also had his aspirations, he aspired to carry her away out of these deadly futilities of pronunciamientos and reforms."

- The Isabels, Chapter 5
Conrad's Nostromo

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Interestingly Inconsequential: Alphonse Daudet

"Inevitably they marchent à la morte - and they are very near the truth of our common destiny: their fate is poignant, it is intensely interesting and of not the slightest consequence."
- Joseph Conrad on Alphonse Daudet
Notes on Life & Letters (1921)

Education & The Christian in the hierarchy of beings

"Thinking which has not trembled in the face of the eternal mystery of existence, that essentially endless sea of truth, has never conceptualized itself, let alone its object." - Balthasar, Theologik II.A.2

Intimacy in the Theologics of Hans Urs Von Balthasar

Besides the obvious inclination towards spying the love of a man and a woman in these theological reflections, I could not help but think of Icons.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

A Box of Poetry

One of the inevitable consequences of surveying a random mix of classical ancient and modern poetry (a happy accident it was my good fortune to partake of) is the opportunity such practice affords to juxtapose a wide variety of poetic forms and content at the level of impressions rather than analysis.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

A Review of Asimov's Earth is Room Enough

Published in 1957, Earth is Room Enough is a collection of short stories by America’s greatest science fiction writer and former president of the American Humanist Association, Isaac Asimov. This is no arbitrary collection.

Friday, April 28, 2017

A Curse of Futility upon our Character

"Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, chivalry and materialism, high sounding sentiments and a supine morality, violent efforts for an idea and a sullen acquiescence in every form of corruption.
We convulsed a continent for our independence only to become the passive prey of a democratic parody, the helpless victims of scoundrels and cutthroats, our institutions a mockery, our laws a farce..."

In Search of the English Life

Image result for toad wind in the willowsReading The Wind in the Willows has put me in the mind of reflecting upon the vast chasm dividing idyllic imaginations of English culture from present reality. The Englishman, with all his faults, is nowadays a rarity in England. It seems one must be Polish to be English nowadays, because the English are no longer English - just modern. Has England become a nation of Toads?

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Cat Prolonged

Image result for cat mackiewiczAs if to prove my point to myself, I read Cat's Theses & Aphorisms on Polish foreign policy last night. Any statesman who writes aphorisms on foreign policy is a rarity, and any civilization which creates such men is worth preserving. Sadly, Cat's writing remains nowadays more a literary curiosity than a serious political program in the eyes of Poles. 

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Cat Revisited

One of my predictable weaknesses is an allergic reaction to hagriography on the subject of Churchill. Thus an otherwise banal Saturday became the occasion to return to Cat Mackiewicz's aphorisms.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Missing the Point

There is nothing quite like the mischievous thrill of reading a story, understanding it and consciously choosing to ignore its main points in favor of tangents.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Thoughts on Nostromo, Part I

The first part of Joseph Conrad's Nostromo is a window into the mind of a first rate political thinker. We could say that Conrad is a genius in his ability to observe the characters of men and regimes, except that these are not observations, but rather imaginations. Yet despite the fiction playing out before our eyes, it is hard to concieve of a more realistic history of a drama which has only crystalized with the passage of time: the evil of colonial imperialism.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Conrad as the Refinement & Sanctification of English Culture

Immediately upon putting down Mick Farren's Armegeddon Crazy and picking up Joseph Conrad's Nostromo one recognizes that English civilization is inferior unless refined and sanctified by the Polish mind.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Moronic, Not Byronic: Final Judgment on the 60s Revolution: It's Boring

Image result for bored catPerhaps I am simply reading a bad book? Perhaps in my attempt to give Mick Farren's science fiction dystopia its due, I have ignored the possibility that it is a horrible bit of writing? 

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Ignorance Makes for Happy Reading

"Speedboat had nothing but contempt for the doombeams and the way they pretended they were so goddamn subversive. All they did was play around at being self-destructive; at no stretch of the imagination was that going to bring down Faithful and his gang..."
Mick Farren, Armegeddon Crazy

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Fundamentally Ignorant

There are two prerequisites to being able to write a book like Amregeddon Crazy: first one must have a very modern education, second one must have a world in which American protestant fundamentalism exists.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Love's Foundations are Love's Fate

In one respect I'll thy assistant be;
For this alliance may so happy prove,
To turn your households' rancour to pure love.
-Shakespeare, Romeo & Juliet, Act II, scene 3

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Punk Not Dead

Image result for mick farrenMick Farren writes books in the same specific style with which he crafts opinion editorials. They are uninviting to the extreme. If one has had the gaul to have had a relatively happy life, to find oneself content with things as they are, to be happily in love, to hope for the least in human affairs and the best on a Friday night - one will never really understand what he was writing about.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Terminal

Terminal - as in airport terminal - as in waiting for an airplane. A late airplane. The flight to literary imagination? Terminals are exactly where the most ridiculous metaphors are born; the ones we laugh at and strike down and never make public. But then a blog must breathe, it is not a magazine, not something to be chiseled, perfected, edited in every minute detail. It is the thing writers hate showing to the world: a work in progress. Or, if a writer must show it to the world - it is only as an afterthought to the final perfected form. Yet I am not so much a writer of literature as a philosopher with some sense of literary style; ergo - I can excuse myself. I can write aphorisms.

Friday, March 24, 2017

The Cosmic Albatross

The final installment of the Invasion from Aldebaran series (so called not because it features an invasion, but because the trio of short stories first appeared in a magazine thus named) is a study in contrasts and a reminder that while Mankind might free itself from the chains of gravity, it cannot relieve the boundaries of human nature.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Through the Cathode Tube



Copernicus has persuaded us to believe, contrary to all the senses, that the earth does not stand fast." -Nietzsche, The Prejudices of Philosophers 12

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Love in Romeo & Juliet

The Chorus suggests two images of love: romantic "star-crossed lovers" and tragic "death-mark'd love." In case we think that Shakespeare is hinting at a balanced view of love, the notes to the side of my Hundsness edition suggest I consider star-crossed lovers "doomed." Did Shakespeare?

A Fly in the Ointment

A fly that dies can spoil the perfumer's ointment - Ecclesiastes 9:18

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Women's Happiness on Women's Day

Related image Today is International Women's Day. we might as well make the best of it by celebrating a woman praised by von Mises as “one of the greatest men in America" - Ayn Rand.

But Will the Sun Set?

The characters in The Sun Also Rises are mostly pathetic, but we can no more blame Hemingway for doing a good job describing the lost generation than we can blame an entire generation for being lost - can we?

Sunday, March 5, 2017

The god of Freud

"If experience should show - not to me, but to others after me, who think as I do - that we have been mistaken, we will give up our expectations."