Journal: A return to Aristotle

plato and aristotleRecently I had a long phone conversation with a friend who is working on a doctorate in philosophy. I expected a few questions about book recommendations and how to worship with the present pandemic, but the conversation was mostly spent on the object of his study, namely, the actions of the simple substances (angels) upon man. Without going into the points around which our conversation turned, the chief effect was that I wanted to fill in those gaps in my reading concerning the angels, what they are and what we can know about them, both from reasoning and from faith.

The first book I picked up to this end contained the Enneads of Plotinus, a philosopher who certainly speculated on the multitude of incorporeal beings. But realizing how “out of shape” I was philosophically, I retreated to more familiar ground. I found my copy of Aristotle’s Metaphysics, and started reviewing sections I did not remember well, namely, Book IX on actuality and potency and Book X on unity. Unlike a novel, where one can read continuously and reasonably hope that what is obscure will become clear later on, when something is obscure in Aristotle, I have to slow down. The questions I ask myself the most often when reading Aristotle are “Is this true?” and “How do I know that?” This is especially true when he talks about motion, about which he makes many universal statements. Aristotle did not grow up hearing about the big bang, the expanding universe, inertia and universal gravitation, atomic models, waves and particles, the death of stars, and so on; therefore, a contemporary person is reasonably skeptical when such a person makes a universal statement about motion itself. And yet, I have the same “macro” experience that Aristotle did. I should at least be able to understand why he thinks certain truths are self-evident or demonstrable. Continue reading

Angels in NGE and St. Thomas Aquinas

arcangels[I previously said I wanted to write on the Human Instrumentality Project from theological point of view, but as I continued thinking, I was taken in more by another aspect of the series.]

First of all, if you have not seen Neon Genesis Evangelion and you do not want any revelations about the final episodes, do not keep reading. From this point on, I will make no effort to conceal plot details.
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Journal: Neon Genesis Evangelion and more Zweig

Well, even with all the extra time, I somehow managed not to pick up a book since my last post. Between making family visits (before Michigan’s stay-at-home order went into effect) and unexpectedly changing my place of residence in the last couple days, I haven’t been sitting down all that much. Nevertheless, I still found a few things to ride about.

hofmannsthal

Hofmannsthal

More Zweig. Driving around these last few days, I’ve listened to another three hours or so of Zweig. I must say, I feel like the classiest driver on the road while listening to the gentleman who narrates this book (apparently his name is David Horovitch). He goes on about the theater and the cafes where Zweig and his childhood companions learned about the greatest poets of their time before they reached fame, how they memorized entire collections of poetry by Whitman and Rimbaud, and submitted their own compositions for publication under pseudonyms since it was not possible for a young student to publish in his own name. Even when Zweig describes things as sordid as brothels or as insipid as the 19th century school system, he does so in a way that reveals the heart’s motion as it is affected or infected by these things. The worst part about this memoir are all the works of literature he mentions that are making my to-read list longer! I had never even heard of Hofmannsthal, but Zweig describes him as a genius who inspired an entire generation of literary endeavor, comparing him to Napoleon who showed that even a young person can rule the entire world without the favor of heritage. The most recent section in the book is talking about the Dreyfus Affair and the eventual introduction of Zionism by Theodor Herzl. When Zweig talks about the Jews in Austria, it is not just a discussion of his own ethnic background. He shows how the bourgeois Austrian Jews were important patrons of the arts and how their role in Austria at that time is an exemplar of the tolerance and lack of prejudice that existed at that time. With this explained, the fate of the Austrian Jews is an importance sign of the fate of Austria itself. This continues to be a very enjoyable read.

unit 01

EVA, Unit-01

Neon Genesis Evangelion. Am I allowed to talk about things other than books on here? Of course I can: it’s my blog. Taking advantage of the fact that I can watch TV shows on my phone while getting my steps in, I recently watched the 26-episode Neon Genesis Evangelion and its follow-up movie End of Evangelion. I had probably seen an episode or two of this as a child (I remembered the penguin), but as the show became more grotesque, it made sense that my parents did not let me keep watching the show. What first looks like a beautifully animated robots-vs-monsters series with angsty teenagers, soon becomes much more than that. It’s hard to really talk about the themes of the series without talking about the end and where it goes, so I’ll save that for another post. penpenApart from the stunning animation, what makes the series intriguing is how it brings together things that don’t obviously go together: crippling depression and goofy breakfast scenes, technology and occult Jewish symbols, evolution and the nature of the soul. Even without going into the deeper questions of the series (which you end up having to consider), everything is so interesting that you just wonder: What are the Angels? What are the Evas? Why are children piloting these? What is the Human Instrumentality Project? What happened at the Second Impact? And so on and so forth. In the near future, I want to write from a theological perspective about the Human Instrumentality Project and the most difficult episodes of the series, but I’ll leave off here for anyone who doesn’t want the later episodes spoiled.

Now to go pick up a book!

Journal: Andrić, Zweig, Julianus Pomerius

It feels like a very long time since I’ve written anything on here, and nearly as long of a time since I even finished reading a book. Perhaps it is because I am in my first year out of school, but it’s been difficult to set aside the time for reading that I once did. Whether it is because I’m actually busy or because reading doesn’t seem appealing when time finally opens up, all of the excuses are gone now. Everything is cancelled. Meetings, appointments, school visits, and so on. So now it is time to read again.

As I often find it difficult to remember all the poignant details of books after reading them, this time I think I’ll do something more like a journal. Instead of waiting until I finish a book, I will periodically talk about what I’m reading. This sort of update will also encourage me to continue reading when the interest ebbs and wanes.

Image result for omer pasha latasI decided to start with a shorter book on the shelf, and picked out Omer Pasha Latas: Marshal to the Sultan by Ivo Andrić. Andrić is the only Southern Slav to win the Nobel Prize in literature, writing in Serbo-Croatian. His most famous work is The Bridge on the Drina, which is a novel that takes place over 300 years where the only consistent figure throughout is the bridge in the title. So far, Omer Pasha Latas resembles The Bridge on the Drina in many respects: it is set in the region of Bosnia, the timeline is extensive, there is a clash of cultures Eastern and Western, and a vying for dominance between the imperial and the local. Though both of the books are composed, more or less, from vignettes about different personalities here and there, the stories in Omer Pasha Latas all revolve in some way around the title character, much as The Bridge on the Drina revolves around the life of that bridge. Omer Pasha was an Austrian who abandoned his faith and consequently worked his way up through the ranks of the Turkish empire. Although he externally takes on the appearance of Turk, he is considered an outsider in everywhere to the Bosnian subjects he attempts to put in order.

Image result for stefan zweig world of yesterdayIn addition to this novel, I decided to give Audible a try and began listening to the memoirs of Stefan Zweig in The World of Yesterday. I’ve only just started it and I only listen to it as I drive, so it may take awhile to get through the 17-hour listening time, but already he explains why his perspective makes a good story: he has witnessed two world wars, and the secure order he grew up in during the late 19th century is unimaginable to those growing up in his own time. He talks about the beauty of Vienna, with its multiculturalism and artistic talent, and the Jewish genius, which prizes the intellectual life above all things. Though I never wrote a post about it, one of the last books I finished was a collection of novellas by Stefan Zweig. Each novella put in deep relief some particular movement of the human heart. I expect his own memoirs to do as well in expressing his own feelings at seeing the world turned upside-down.

Image result for bartholomew of the martyrsThe last book I want to mention is called The Contemplative Life by Julianus Pomerius, a 5th century African writer. How I discovered this work: I was reading about the recently canonized St. Bartholomew of the Martyrs, a Portuguese Dominican friar who became a bishop and assisted with the reform of the clergy around the time of the Council of Trent. I discovered that he wrote a manual for bishops, called the Stimulus Pastorum, which became one of the favorite books of St. Charles Borromeo. This work had never been translated into English, but my curiosity led me to a Latin version of the work. Whereas the second half of the work reads like a manual for bishops, the first half of the work is composed entirely from other works: On the Priesthood by St. John Chrysostom, The Pastoral Rule of St. Gregory the Great, On consideration by St. Bernard of Clairvaux, and several other well-known works and authors. One extensively quoted work that I did not recognize was De vita contemplativa by Julianus Pomerius, a work I had never heard of, but which was available in English. So I obtained an English copy and began reading. So far, it’s an excellent work of eschatology. judgment angelicoApparently, the author was responsible for bringing the thought of St. Augustine from North Africa up to Gaul, where he was ordained and served as a teacher. Whereas St. Augustine sometimes sounds silly in the City of God, as he ponders and proposes about the nature of the next life and the resurrection of the body, the work of Pomerius trims down these doctrines to their essential points and presents them in a manner useful for meditation. For example, he usefully proposes that the active life is to the contemplative life as the contemplative life is to the life of the blessed in heaven. With this proportion in place, every description of the coming beatitude and resurrection of the body helps to illustrate the life to which contemplatives are called, while at the same time highlighting the perfection that remains for the next world. If someone was unfamiliar with the Christian doctrines of the beatific vision, the resurrection of the body, the last judgment, or the superiority of the contemplative life, I would certainly recommend this book as a level and clear explanation. The second half of the book will give counsel for those caught up in the active life, something I hope to find very useful.