Monday, December 31, 2007

Hans Blumenberg: Complicating the Curiosity-Complex

A curious ass...
(Image from Wikipedia)

In his investigation into the process by which curiositas became a vice, Blumenberg must also explore the Greek side of the Graeco-Roman understanding, which entails drawing links between etymologically unrelated terms.

Blumenberg does so in looking into the Latin work Metamorphoses (aka The Golden Ass), by Apuleius, and its intellectual background in Greek thought:
In the Latin patristic literature, the term curiositas receives its specifically anti-Gnostic aspect of significance from Tertullian (ca. 160-220 A.D.). Here the characteristic imprint that the word had been given in Apuleius's Metamorphoses, which were produced between 170 and 180 A.D., may have had an influence. The process whereby the cognitive appetite was transformed into a constituent element of the catalog of vices took a decisive step forward here, in that curiositas became the dominant trait of a character, of a type. (Hans Blumenberg, The Legitimacy of the Modern Age, page 298)
I should here note that Blumenberg will next deal with the Greek background to the curiosity-complex, a point that he has earlier touched upon: "This polypragmonein [busyness, meddling] is the equivalent of periergia [overcarefulness, superfluity, investigation of 'curious' matters]" (p. 288). One will recall that Blumenberg has already noted the denigration of periergia in Greek thought, as expressed in Philos Judaeus's allegory De migratione Abrahami: "Chaldea is the land of curiosity (periergia), . . . understood as the independence of the senses, which have evaded their subordination to the intellect and instead of this deliver man up to what accords with them" (Legitimacy, page 284). I have commented on this passage in an earlier post. According to Blumenberg, this Greek understanding of polypragmonein as equivalent to periergia, both being terms for a disreputable curiosity, stand behind Apuleius's depiction of curiositas as "the dominant trait of a character, of a type":
This [character type] had been prepared for, in the conceptual history of the Greek polypragmosyne [officious busyness, meddling], by Plutarch (ca. 45-ca. 125 A.D.), in a treatise that had described busybody activity as harmful, particularly in the realm of human relations. Plutarch's suspicion of this characteristic takes as its point of departure the assumption that man's supposed 'interest' in other men is directed especially at hidden wickedness, which it seeks to bring to light and publicize through 'gossip.' This gossipy curiosity is directed at the intimate sphere of one's fellow man and penetrates the secrecy (which is, in its own way, humane) of human wickedness. It puts into words, and into the circulation of talk, the unspeakable things that pertain to others, so that, in an extreme comparison, adultery can be described as a sort of curiosity about someone else's carnal pleasure. It is characteristic of Plutarch, the Greek, that he recommends as a means of curing such gossipy curiosity the diversion of interest by other objects, and explicitly mentions the heavens, earth, air, and sea. He assures us, in this connection, that nature has nothing against the cognitive appetite diverted toward it; however, no hidden wickedness is to be found there, and he who cannot do without it will have to stick to history.

In Apuleius's novel, curiositas is radicalized; its magical potency -- which Philo earlier thought he had recognized in its secret drive toward transposition -- is made thematic. One of the ironies with which the author treats Lucius's curiosity -- animallike, credulous, and capable of any indecency -- is that he counts among his famous ancestors not only the author of the treatise on curiosity, Plutarch, but also the Skeptic Sextus Empiricus. For even the hero's immoderate lust for knowledge is exhibited as the degeneration of the philosophical appetite for knowledge when he introduces himself as "not indeed curious but still desirous of knowing everything, or in any event a great deal." Elsewhere he does not shrink from describing himself as possessed by an innate curiosity. The 'ontological' precondition of the hero's immoderate curiositas and of his magical inclinations is the vanished firmness of the contours of the world's constitution, the suspension of the cosmic quality of reality and the resulting explosion of the horizon of possibility, which creates a space in which what man can look forward to is indeterminate: "Nihil impossibile arbitror . . ." [I think that nothing is impossible]. What is unexpected in common experience, happens. Of the voluptuousness of a feast it is said, "Quicquid fieri non potest ibi est" [Whatever could not possibly come into being is there]. Curiosity seeks no longer what is admirable and wonderful in the cosmos but rather the strange, the peculiar, the curious (in the objective sense), that which can only be gaped at, in a structure of reality that is dissolved into transitions and alterations of form. The hero also describes himself as "all too eager to become acquainted with strange and astonishing things." (Blumenberg, Legitimacy, pages 298-299)
One sees from this development of the curiositas complex that a curious concern with cosmic phenomena would begin to be seen meddling in the things that God has created for his own purposes, things that are none of mankind's business, things of which one should not speak lest one fall into the sin of gossip, which would perhaps imply that one is speaking of the things that God has created as though they were the result of improper acts of some "hidden wickedness" and one were a voyeur who had seen (or at least heard) of them. In some Gnostic treatises, the cosmic process of creation was, indeed, a sexual one -- as much birth, or abortion, as creation. The patristic authors critical of curiosity would not consider this to be the actual process by which the true God created the cosmos, but curiosity is credulous, quick to believe in and gossip about such nonsense, and therefore must be curtailed, condemned.

Such are the complications of the curiositas-complex.

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Sunday, December 30, 2007

"This Be the Worse"

This Be the Man?
Photograph by Philip Sayer
Cover of Required Writing

When the British poet Philip Larkin published his unprintable poem "This Be the Verse" in the August 1971 issue of the New Humanist, he probably didn't foresee how widely, even colloquially, it would come to be quoted despite (or perhaps because of) containing one of the seven dirty words that you can never say on television.

I mean the f-word.

Pan forward to Korea, 2007. Yesterday, my daughter -- who has only recently turned eleven -- mentioned the movie Die Hard. Now, I happen to like that 1988 action film, but I was surprised that my daughter had heard of it.

"You've heard of the film?" I asked.

"I've seen it," she replied.

I looked at her. "You've seen it?"


"The Bruce Willis movie?" I checked.

She looked puzzled, so I asked, "Was there a lot of shooting?"


"Where did you see it?"

"In school. Our teacher showed it."

I sat there astounded, wondering, What could her teacher have been thinking? I then went to my wife and told her:
"Sun-Ae, you need to speak to Sa-Rah's teacher. He showed the film Die Hard to his fifth-grade class. It's a film with a lot of violence and a lot of bad language. It's completely inappropriate for children. If I recall, it was rated R, which means that you can't see it without a parent if you're under 17."

I added, "The main character, played by Bruce Willis, uses the f-word a lot."
Sun-Ae didn't specifically say that she'd speak with Sa-Rah's teacher, but she agreed with me about the film being inappropriate for children:
"A lot of Koreans have no sense of what movies children should be allowed to see. The kids probably see the same film at home on DVD."
She's right . . . which doesn't make it right.

But getting back to Larkin . . . I don't blame him for popularizing the f-word (which I admit also escapes my lips from time to time), but his poem "The Be the Verse" serves as a convenient postillion upon which to vent my paternal wrath.
This Be the Worse
When Philip Larkin wrote, that cad,
In nineteen-seventy-f*cking-two,
He fouled me with the fault he had
Of saying well what isn't true.

But he was f*cked up in his turn
From closely cultivating oats
That he had wildly sown to learn
What he could then shove down our throats.

"Man hands on misery to man"?
His own sits there upon my shelf.
"Get out as early as you can"?
At least he had no kids himself.
No kids. That's one thing in his favor . . . and (whinging aside) I also happen to like his poem. It's catchy.

Which doesn't make it right...

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Saturday, December 29, 2007

Improving on W.B. Yeats

Maud Gonne, Beloved by Yeats
"love comes in at the eye"
(Image from Wikipedia)

I've long been troubled by poems that pretend to rhyme. I really dislike eye-rhymes, for they conflict with my ear for the verse (though I might enjoy them if used ironically).

I therefore must object to this otherwise charming little poem published in Responsibilities and Other Poems (1916) by the great Irish poet William Butler Yeats:
A Drinking Song
Wine comes in at the mouth
And love comes in at the eye;
That's all we shall know for truth
Before we grow old and die.
I lift the glass to my mouth,
I look at you, and I sigh.
Look -- or, rather, listen -- does "truth" really rhyme with "mouth"? Do the Irish pronounce "mouth" to rhyme with "vermouth"? Even if they do, does that make it right? I think not. Therefore, I have revised this little poem by Yeats, fixing its rhyme scheme, correcting its punctuation, and adjusting its content ever so slightly to fit today's altered cultural circumstances:
A Boozing Song
Booze comes in at the mouth,
And lust comes in at the ear;
We'll not know north from south
If we grow old on beer.
I lift the glass to my mouth;
I look at you, and I leer.
Definitely improved. And the collection of poems by Yeats can now be re-titled as well: Irresponsibilities and Other Poems. That's also obviously better. Perhaps Gypsy Scholar should initiate a new series: "Improved Poems." Imagine . . . an opportunity to revise all those terrible lines in 'great' poems that you'd really like to love but can't . . . quite . . . yet.

Now, you can, for the Gypsy is open to suggestions.

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Friday, December 28, 2007

A Curious Thalesian Tale

Well might he look down
from time to time...
(Image from

In my recent 'literary' diversions touching upon Christmas, Boxing Day, St. Pugnacious, and Islamist song-and-dance, I've detoured from my serious interest in the trial of theoretical curiosity.

As perhaps became apparent from my Ciceronian post, distrust of curiosity for distracting one from more immediate, serious matters did not begin with the Church Fathers, but those fathers were able to mine the rich, classical veins for nuggets of ancient wisdom either explicitly or implicitly critical of curiosity's distractions.

In Plato's dialogue Theaetetus, Socrates criticizes those philosophers who concern themselves with distant, abstract things but neglect practical affairs closer to hand:
[T]he lords of philosophy have never, from their youth upwards, known their way to the Agora, or the dicastery, or the council, or any other political assembly; they neither see nor hear the laws or decrees, as they are called, of the state written or recited; the eagerness of political societies in the attainment of office . . . do not enter even into their dreams. Whether any event has turned out well or ill in the city, what disgrace may have descended to any one from his ancestors, male or female, are matters of which the philosopher no more knows than he can tell, as they say, how many pints are contained in the ocean. Neither is he conscious of his ignorance. For he does not hold aloof in order; that he may gain a reputation; but the truth is, that the outer form of him only is in the city: his mind, disdaining the littlenesses and nothingnesses of human things, is "flying all abroad" as Pindar says, measuring earth and heaven and the things which are under and on the earth and above the heaven, interrogating the whole nature of each and all in their entirety, but not condescending to anything which is within reach. (Plato, Theaetetus, translated by Benjamin Jowett, Part 1, Page 38)
Socrates illustrates this with an anecdote about Thales:
I will illustrate my meaning . . . by the jest which the clever witty Thracian handmaid is said to have made about Thales, when he fell into a well as he was looking up at the stars. She said, that he was so eager to know what was going on in heaven, that he could not see what was before his feet. This is a jest which is equally applicable to all philosophers. For the philosopher is wholly unacquainted with his next-door neighbour; he is ignorant, not only of what he is doing, but he hardly knows whether he is a man or an animal; he is searching into the essence of man, and busy in enquiring what belongs to such a nature to do or suffer different from any other.... (Plato, Theaetetus, translated by Benjamin Jowett, Part 1, Page 39)
The Church Father Tertullian, brilliant rhetorician and skilled lawyer but somewhat neglectful of details, picked up on this anecdote to disparage curiosity:
Now, pray tell me, what wisdom is there in this hankering after conjectural speculations? What proof is afforded to us, notwithstanding the strong confidence of its assertions, by the useless affectation of a scrupulous curiosity, which is tricked out with an artful show of language? It therefore served Thales of Miletus quite right, when, star-gazing as he walked with all the eyes he had, he had the mortification of falling into a well, and was unmercifully twitted by an Egyptian, who said to him, "Is it because you found nothing on earth to look at, that you think you ought to confine your gaze to the sky?" His fall, therefore, is a figurative picture of the philosophers; of those, I mean, who persist in applying their studies to a vain purpose, since they indulge a stupid curiosity on natural objects, which they ought rather (intelligently to direct) to their Creator and Governor. (Tertullian, Ad Nationes, Book II, Chapter 4)
Tertullian knows the story, but he has 'forgotten' that the one who twitted Thales was a Thracian maiden and has substituted, in her stead, an Egyptian. He has also changed the story from one illustrating the point that philosophers ought to apply their intellectual concentration upon practical affairs to one illustrating the point that philosophers ought to direct their curiosity toward God.

Actually, Tertullian's wording has implied that philosophers ought not to "indulge a stupid curiosity on natural objects" but on "their Creator and Governor" -- as the translator has realized and as the Latin original shows:
qui stupidam exerceant curiositatem naturae quam prius in artificem eius et praesidem (Tertullian, Adversus nationes II 4, quoted in Hans Blumenberg, The Legitimacy of the Modern Age, p. 629, n. 68)
Tertullian, however, surely did not mean that one ought to "indulge a stupid curiosity" on one's "Creator and Governor," i.e., God, but (like Homer) had simply nodded off -- and was thus also 'off' his otherwise dependable rhetorical brilliance.

Nitpicking aside, let us turn to Hans Blumenberg, who also notes the Thalesian anecdote and Tertullian's use of it:
The first philosopher to live in Athens, Anaxagoras, could be accused of impiety because he had maintained that the sun was a glowing mass; and even if this accusation was only an explicit formula for the demythologizing of philosophy that he definitively carried out, it was nevertheless certainly not accidental that it became the central charge against him. Perhaps the anecdote about Thales that Plato hands down also has a similar background; the laughter of the Thracian maid over the philosopher who fell in the well while sauntering and observing the stars may represent not only the malicious pleasure of the unfree in observing the consequences of idleness, but also an understanding of the revenge taken by her tellurian gods on the Milesian who devoted his attention entirely to the stars. In the patristic polemics, the gaze upward is still contrasted, as the one capable of transcendence, to the downward gaze of the heathens, who are in the power of material idols. But the Thracian maid's ridicule of the protophilosopher Thales also hints at a further motif, which was to reappear in the course of the process through which the theoretical attitude became questionable: the conflict between the distant and the nearby, between that which has no immediate effect in life and the daily duties of a citizen in a community. He knows his way about the heavens, but he does not see what lies before his feet, sneers the slave girl. (Blumenberg, Legitimacy of the Modern Age, pp. 245-246)
Although Blumenberg implicitly acknowledges that he is speculating in suggesting that the Thracian maid inferred that Thales was being divinely punished for his (curious) attention to the stars instead of to the gods closer to hand, the speculation allows Blumenberg more readily to draw out the implications of the tale for Tertullian:
[F]or Tertullian . . . [curiosity] has scarcely anything to do with the Augustinian "pleasure of the eyes" but exhibits a more 'literary' character, comparable to the vanity of education and the pleasure of dialectical activity. To this the simplicity of the anima idiotica [uneducated soul] is contrasted. To the extent that the cognitive appetite directs itself at nature, it is reprehensible not on account of the nature of its objects but rather because it prefers the inferior realm of the dependent and the conditioned to the immediacy of its relation to its author. Thales's astronomical curiosity is reprimanded for this metaphysical short-sightedness. (Blumenberg, Legitimacy of the Modern Age, p. 302)
Tertullian thus draws out the implication of divine displeasure that Blumenberg has imputed to the Thalesian tale and criticizes philosophers for their "stupid curiosity" about contingent things rather than an intelligent curiosity about the ground of all contingent things, i.e., God.

Augustine, as we have seen, suspects that not merely stupidity but something more demonic is at work in the attractions toward which curiosity leads, but unlike Tertullian, Augustine went through a Gnostic phase, and Blumenberg thinks that he carried over into his orthodox Catholicism a continuing Gnostic distrust of the cosmos.

I'm not sure, however, that Augustine's Manichaean brand of Gnosticism would explain this, but more on that another time.

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Thursday, December 27, 2007

By Popular Demand: Saint Pugnacious Sings "Infidels"!

Saint Pugnacious
(Image from BBC News)

Yesterday, which happened to be "Boxing Day," we learned that Omar "St. Pugnacious" Bakri thinks that Christmas should be "completely forbidden" but also that "Christmas Day would be the perfect day to launch a terror attack on the UK."

Bakri has not yet realized the contradiction in these two thoughts -- if Christmas were "completely forbidden," how could he "launch" his "terror attack" on Christmas Day?

"Ah," retorts Bakri, ever quick on his toes, "the attack would launch on Ex-mas Day!"

Then, from on those ever-quick toes, Bakri launches himself into a grand jeté, lands softly, performs a pirouette, and breaks into his favorite tune, "Infidels," an Islamist adaptation of that lovely Christmas song "Silver Bells," first sung by Bob Hope and Marilyn Maxwell in the 1951 comedy, The Lemon Drop Kid.

Enough of that trivia, heeeeere's Bakri!
Ex-mas makes you feel emotional...
It may rain body parts through thoughts devotional.
Whatever happens, inshallah, may be,
Here is what Ex-mas time means to me.

City sidewalks, risky sidewalks,
Dressed in
houri-day style,
In this lair, there's
a feeling of Ex-mas.

Children coughing, people passing
out mile after mile,
And from every street coroner, you'll hear:

Infidels (infidels)...
infidels (infidels)...
It's Ex-mas time in the city:
(Clear the infidels, go...)
Wring-the-things (wring-the-things)...
hear them scream (hear them scream)...
Soon it will be Ex-mas Day...

City street lights, even stop lights,
blink a bright red and green
As the chopped ones' crushed homes
lose their treasures.

Hear the snow crash, like an avalanche.
This is Al Harb's big scene,
And above all this
hustle, you'll hear:

Infidels (infidels)...
infidels (infidels)...
It's Ex-mas time in the city:
(Clear the infidels, go...)
Wring-the-things (wring-the-things)...
hear them scream (hear them scream)...
Soon it will be Ex-mas Day...
Happy Holidays to all my readers, from Gypsy Scholar . . . and even from Saint Pugnacious.

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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Happy Boxing Day!

Saint Pugnacious
(Image from 12/24/07 Daily Mail)

To all my British and Commonwealth readers: St. Pugnacious wishes you a Happy Boxing Day!

However, this saint, better known as Omar Bakri Muhammad, conveys somewhat less joyful greetings concerning Christmas itself. A recent article in the Daily Mail reports this message:
Omar Bakri . . . is calling on Brits to boycott Christmas. Using the internet to post . . . against the festive season, Bakri claims Christmas should be "completely forbidden" . . . . He said: "To have Christmas tree, visit so-called Christmas Father -- that is completely forbidden. Make sure you do not watch TV. Do not let them hear jingle bells. Do not send your children on Christmas trip." ("Hate cleric Omar Bakri calls for 'ban' on Christmas" Daily Mail, 12/24/2007)
Do not let them hear jingle bells? According to The Polar Express, one can only hear Christmas bells jingle if one truly believes in Christmas, so I'm inferring that Omar Bakri has seen this film and understands the significance of hearing Christmas bells. But how can good Islamist parents ensure that their children not hear those damned bells? How does Omar Bakri do it? Wouldn't he himself have to actually hear an infidel bell? Perhaps he even discovers himself singing along to that catchy Christmas tune "Silver Bells" but conducts an inner spiritual struggle not to believe and so alters the words to render a more acceptable Islamist version:
Infidels (infidels)...
Infidels (infidels)...
It's Xmas time in the city:
(Clear the infidels, go...)
Wring-the-things (wring-the-things)...
Hear them scream (hear them scream)...
Soon it will be Xmas Day...
Such a properly militant rewording of that otherwise lovely song would better fit with Omar Bakri's view that "Christmas Day would be the perfect day to launch a terror attack on the UK."

So . . . no, Omar Bakri doesn't like Christmas. But Boxing Day? St. Pugnacious says it's an okay day. Any day devoted to the spirit of fighting is a day that he can appreciate.

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Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas 2007

Saint Nicholas
Medieval Fresco
(Image from Wikipedia)

Another Christmas has arrived for the Gypsy Scholar family, but merely one day for Christmas is so little time for celebration that I have to lament that fact. I'm especially haunted by that familiar song The Twelve Days of Christmas, which I loved when I was a child and which plays over and over in my head reminding me that the Medieval world thought of Christmas as a longer period than just one day.

Or is it the Catholic Church that treats Christmas as longer than a mere 24 hours?

Anyway, I've written a little rhyme of lament, partly as a 'present' for my wife Sun-Ae, who requested a poem, perhaps imagining one like what I gave her last year, but she's stuck with this whinging one this Christmas...
Christmas Present
A year brings now another Christmas nigh,
And were there still those twelve medieval days
To celebrate a dozen, courtly ways,
I'd greet this time without protesting sigh.

For hardly greeted is it fast foreby
And lost within that sempiternal maze,
Forever hidden from our baffled gaze,
Where every single Christmas past will lie.

And yet, one dozen Christmases to fete
Would soon be just as all forever gone
Into that same dark labyrinth of time.

Such is of every Christmas past the fate
Predictable: it ought to prompt a yawn,
But since I muse, this Christmas Present rhyme.
Appearances to the contrary, I'm very happy to greet this Christmas morning, so I'd better join the family at the tree.

But I leave all of my readers with best wishes for a very merry Christmas.

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Monday, December 24, 2007

Hans Blumenberg: The Threat to Theoretical Curiosity

Edmund Husserl
"counter to powerful interests"
(Image from The Husserl Page)

Many of my recent posts have spent an apparently inordinate amount of time delving into the so-called 'trial' of theoretical curiosity, that historical process by which the evaluation of curiosity changed from Antiquity's more or less neutral attitude through the Medieval period's condemnation of it as a vice to Modernity's extolling of it as a virtue.

If Hans Blumenberg is correct in the argument that he puts forth in his Legitimacy tome, then the Modern age emerged not as a secularization of the Medieval world, if one means by that expression that the Modern age simply appropriated Medieval concepts as its own in the same way that the Protestant states secularized the Catholic monasteries by confiscating their lands, their treasures, and their libraries. Rather, Modernity arose as something radically new, namely, through the self-assertion of mankind's right to unbounded curiosity as a existential necessity in the late Medieval period's nominalist construal of an indifferent cosmos and a hostile deity.

The 'trial' of theoretical curiosity might seem long over by now, possibly even of historical interest only, and such might have appeared the case in the early 60s, when Blumenberg's ideas were developing. As such, his study might have been seen as of theoretical interest alone, an investigation into an obscure issue long past, research that only a curious scholar would engage in. Perhaps so. Among scholars, at any rate, Blumenberg's work was recognized as original, even 'world-historical' in its far-reaching implications, but the issue seemingly remained an academic one.

Arguably, Blumenberg himself thought so at the time of his writing, for he noted:
Our situation is not that of the beginning of the modern age, however distinguishable by "specific transactions" that beginning may be. Is the problem of making a beginning still our problem? Jürgen Mittelstrass has answered this question by giving his concept of "'reflected' curiosity" as a specifically heterogeneous function that I would like to characterize as that of an already iterated 'reflection': What set the modern age's curiosity in motion no longer needs -- in its self-accelerated, immanently propelled motion -- rehabilitation and restitution of its primary energy; it has become indifferent to the new, as such, on account of its experience of the latter's inevitability, which may even constitute for it a burden to be endured, and instead it is all the more sensitive to the direction that belongs to the motion that is thus stimulated, sensitive to the question of where it is headed. (Blumenberg, Legitimacy of the Modern Age, p. 235)
Still, Blumenberg knew better, knew from his own life -- interrupted at around age 20 by World War II -- the threat that powerful interests could oppose to curiosity:
In this [current] situation [of theoretical ease], anyone at all who "defends man's interest in what, so to speak, does not concern him" seems anachronistic -- unless perhaps this were once again an act of defending theoretical curiosity in circumstances where it was supposed to interest itself only in material that did not run counter to powerful interests. Even in the categorization of theory as a derivative attitude subordinate to the radical of "care," there is a possibility, if not a necessity, of requiring the interest in theory to legitimate itself once again by demonstrating a contemporary and relevant, or even an authoritatively prescribed, "care" as its source. Scarcely a decade after theory, as mere gaping at what is 'present at hand,' had been, if not yet despised, still portrayed as a stale recapitulation of the content of living involvements, it was the greatness of the solitary, aged Edmund Husserl, academically exiled and silenced, that he held fast to the resolution to engage in theory as the initial act of European humanity and as a corrective for its most terrible deviation, and that he required of it a rigorous consistency, which is still, or once again, felt to be objectionable. Hermann Lübbe has described as the characteristic mark of this philosophizing, especially in the late works, the "rationalism of theory's interest in what is without interest": "The existential problem of a scholar who in his old age was forbidden to set foot in the place where he carried on his research and teaching never shows through, and even the back of the official notice that informed him of this prohibition was covered by Husserl with philosophical notes. That is a case of 'carrying on' whose dignity equals that of the sentence, 'Noli turbare circulos meos' [Don't disturb my circles]." (Blumenberg, Legitimacy of the Modern Age, pp. 235-236)
In a note to this text, the translator Robert Wallace explains the obscure allusion as "[a] remark reportedly made by Archimedes to Roman soldiers who, after conquering his city, Syracuse, were on the point of killing him" (p. 241, n. a). According to this tradition, Archimedes was busily working on problems of geometry, following the path that his theoretical curiosity was leading, all but oblivious to the dire events transpiring around him, and was simply requesting that no one disturb his work ("μή μου τούς κύκλους τάραττε").

In reality, of course, Archimedes was a practical man dedicated to the defense of his city and occupied in applying his theoretical expertise in geometry to his city's defense. According to Lucian of Samosata, Archimedes used a series of mirrors arranged parabolically to focus sunlight upon Roman ships and cause them to burst into flames before they could attack. Whether this story is true or not, it does recall the sort of role that Archimedes played as an advisor to the military on the use of scientific and technical knowledge for defensive purposes, and his work on improving the catapult could be applied not merely to defensive purposes but also to offensive aims.

Nevertheless, Blumenberg's point remains. Conditions are not always favorable to the open-ended questions posed by curious scholars. The obscure reference above to "theory [being despised] . . . as mere gaping at what is 'present at hand'" alludes to the philosophy of Martin Heidegger, which Blumenberg implicitly criticizes for denigrating theory as a "mere gaping" at things "present at hand" that the active man would grasp. That active man Martin Heidegger who joined the Nazi Party and turned against his Jewish teacher Edmund Husserl was the very same man who conveyed to Husserl the Nazi directive that he was no longer permitted to use the library at Alfred Ludwigs University, in Freiburg, the place where he had conducted much of his research.

His curiosity was verboten.

For that malady, Europe required the treatment of radical surgery, and one might think the West cured, secure in a world now safe for theoretical curiosity, but I question whether or not this safety is so secure, for, arguably, we face again the resurgence of theological absolutism, only this time of a more implacable sort than the late Medieval Christian nominalist kind.

Perhaps a new defense is required...

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Sunday, December 23, 2007

James J. O'Donnell: Augustine's curiositas as "concupiscentia oculorum"

James J. O'Donnell
'...surrounded by spectacula to tempt
the concupiscentia oculorum'

Yesterday, we encountered the usefulness of James J. O'Donnell's Augustine: Confessions, an online text with scholarly commentary, for it provides insight and links concerning Ancient and Medieval views on curiosity.

Curiously, however, in his commentary to Augustine's Confessions Book 10, Chapter 35, Paragraph 54, O'Donnell tells us: "Curiositas (for the concept in A. before conf., see on 3.2.2)" -- which I will spell out as this: "For the concept of 'curiositas' in Augustine prior to his fuller view in his Confessions, see the commentary to Confessions Book 3, Chapter 2, Paragraph 2," which we will do in a moment, but let us first see what the passages itself says in Latin:
rapiebant me spectacula theatrica, plena imaginibus miseriarum mearum et fomitibus ignis mei. quid est quod ibi homo vult dolere cum spectat luctuosa et tragica, quae tamen pati ipse nollet? et tamen pati vult ex eis dolorem spectator et dolor ipse est voluptas eius. quid est nisi mirabilis insania? nam eo magis eis movetur quisque, quo minus a talibus affectibus sanus est, quamquam, cum ipse patitur, miseria, cum aliis compatitur, misericordia dici solet. sed qualis tandem misericordia in rebus fictis et scenicis? non enim ad subveniendum provocatur auditor sed tantum ad dolendum invitatur, et actori earum imaginum amplius favet cum amplius dolet. et si calamitates illae hominum, vel antiquae vel falsae, sic agantur ut qui spectat non doleat, abscedit inde fastidiens et reprehendens; si autem doleat, manet intentus et gaudens lacrimat.
If your Latin is as wonderful as mine, you'll also need help, so let us seek guidance from the Holy Catholic Church -- I mean its encyclopedia, which provides this translation of Confessions Book 3, Chapter 2, Paragraph 2:
Stage-plays also drew me away, full of representations of my miseries and of fuel to my fire. Why does man like to be made sad when viewing doleful and tragical scenes, which yet he himself would by no means suffer? And yet he wishes, as a spectator, to experience from them a sense of grief, and in this very grief his pleasure consists. What is this but wretched insanity? For a man is more affected with these actions, the less free he is from such affections. Howsoever, when he suffers in his own person, it is the custom to style it "misery" but when he compassionates others, then it is styled "mercy." But what kind of mercy is it that arises from fictitious and scenic passions? The hearer is not expected to relieve, but merely invited to grieve; and the more he grieves, the more he applauds the actor of these fictions. And if the misfortunes of the characters (whether of olden times or merely imaginary) be so represented as not to touch the feelings of the spectator, he goes away disgusted and censorious; but if his feelings be touched, he sits it out attentively, and sheds tears of joy.
Augustine would here seem to be arguing against Aristotle's defense of 'poetry' (cf. Plato's critique of poetry in The Republic), which included drama, particularly of tragic drama, which Aristotle argued acted as a sort of catharsis, a purifying of the spectator. Augustine, like Plato, disagrees with Aristotle on tragic drama's effect, finding that it does not purify but, rather, corrupts.

Be that as it may, you will now see why I found 'curious' that O'Donnell would direct us to his commentary to Confessions Book 3, Chapter 2, Paragraph 2, for Augustine does not use the term "curiositas" in this passage. However, we can understand if we see that the passage fits what Augustine elsewhere says of "curiositas" as "concupiscentia oculorum," i.e., "curiosity" as "lust of the eyes."

Anyway, let's see what O'Donnell has to say:
Curiositas is always a vice for A. For a definition using the word itself, vera rel. 52.101, 'quid enim appetit curiositas nisi cognitionem quae certa esse non potest nisi rerum aeternarum et eodem modo se semper habentium?'; though the word is absent, more revealing perhaps is vera rel. 33.62, 'ille [animus] autem vult mentem convertere ad corpora, oculos ad deum. quaerit enim intellegere carnalia et videre spiritalia, quod fieri non potest.'

For bibliography, see on 10.35.54. There is much originality to A.'s development, but the possible influence of Ambrose has not been sufficiently considered. Not that Ambrose has a concept of curiositas, but some of his suspicions of the excesses of the philosophers are at least apposite to A.'s own thoughts, though A. develops them further. See Amb. off. 1.26.122 (written 386), 'itaque tractant in veri investigatione tenendum illud decorum, ut summo studio requiramus quid verum sit, non falsa pro veris ducere, non obscuris vera involvere, non superfluis vel inplexis atque ambiguis occupare animum. quid tam indecorum quam venerari ligna, quod ipsi faciunt? quid tam obscurum quam de astronomia et geometria tractare, quod probant, et profunda aeris spatia metiri, caelum quoque et mare numeris includere; relinquere causam salutis, erroris quaerere?' Such ill-guided search for knowledge Amb. then contrasts to Moses' superior wisdom.

The subject emerges early and pervades the years before conf.; at ord. 1.8.26 he recalls watching a cock-fight: 'cur . . . nos ipsa pugnae facies aliquantum et praeter altiorem istam considerationem duceret in voluptatem spectaculi?' Later in the same work, he cautions measure in inquiry: ord. 2.5.17, 'si quis temere ac sine ordine disciplinarum in harum rerum cognitionem audet inruere, pro studioso illum curiosum, pro docto credulum, pro cauto incredulum fieri' (cf. ord. 1.11.31, 'curiosi vel nimium studiosi'); specific examples are offered: ord. 2.12.37 (the trivial pursuits of grammarians), 2.15.42 (on astronomy: 'astrologiam genuit, magnum religiosis argumentum tormentumque curiosis'); cf. quant. an. 19.33. The noun curiositas itself is introduced at mus. 6.13.39, 'avertit [a contemplatione aeternorum] denique amor vanissimae cognitionis talium rerum. . . . curiositas nascitur ipso curae nomine inimica securitati, et vanitate impos veritatis'. Connection with 1 Jn. 2.16 (see on 1.10.16 and on 10.30.41) is slower coming, though it may underlie mor. 1.21.38: 'quamobrem recte etiam curiosi esse prohibemur, quod magnum temperantiae munus est. . . . reprimat igitur se anima ab huiusmodi vanae cognitionis cupiditate, si se castam deo servare disposuit.' Similar discussions occur later: cf., e.g., trin. 10.1.3, 'aut si tam curiosus est ut non propter aliquam notam causam sed solo amore rapiatur incognita sciendi, discernendus quidem est ab studiosi nomine iste curiosus; sed nec ipse amat incognita, immo congruentius dicitur, odit incognita, quae nulla esse vult dum vult omnia cognita.'

A clear echo of 1 Jn. 2.16 occurs at lib. arb. 2.19.53 (nothing in the work can be surely dated before it was put in final form, which may have been as late as 395), 'ad proprium convertitur [1], cum suae potestatis vult esse; ad exterius [2], cum aliorum propria vel quaecumque ad se non pertinent cognoscere studet, ad inferius [3] cum voluptatem corporis diligit. atque ita homo superbus [1] et curiosus [2] et lascivus [3] effectus excipitur ab alia vita quae in comparatione superioris vitae mors est.' But comparable echoes may be found at Gn. c. man. 1.23.40 (quoted on 10.30.41) and 2.18.27 ('genus tertium temptationis his verbis figurare, quod est curiositas').

The last thing A. wrote before his ordination in 391 was vera rel., whose structure and contents are heavily influenced by 1 Jn. 2.16; there are clear attacks on curiositas at vera rel. 3.4, 4.7 ('nam tertio vitio curiositatis in percontandis daemonibus'), 29.52 ('in quorum consideratione non vana et peritura curiositas exercenda est, sed gradus ad immortalia et semper manentia faciendus'), 38.70, 38.71 (quoted on 10.30.41 for the link between the temptations of 1 Jn. and the three temptations of Christ in the desert), 49.94 ('iam vero cuncta spectacula et omnis illa quae appellatur curiositas, quid aliud quaerit quam de rerum cognitione laetitiam?'), and cf. also vera rel. 52.101-54.105, and see div. qu. 68.1, quoted on 5.3.5 below.

When we bring our modern incomprehension to A.'s disdain for what is now an unquestioned virtue, we forget that for him curiositas led directly to demons: cat. rud. 25.48, 'qui christianum nomen oderunt . . . et adhuc simulacris et daemoniorum curiositatibus servire desiderant,' and Io. ep. tr. 2.13 (on 1 Jn. 2.16), 'iam quam late patet curiositas? ipsa in spectaculis, in theatris, in sacramentis diaboli, in magicis artibus, in maleficiis ipsa est curiositas.' See also trin. 4.11.14-4.12.15, civ. 10.26, 10.28 (where he presents Porphyry playing to an audience of the curious: 'ut talium quoque rerum quasi peritus appareas et placeas inlicitarum artium curiosis, vel ad eas facias ipse curiosos'), and 10.29. (A familiar villain for fourth-century Christians was similarly led astray by curiositas, acting in concert this time with ambitio saeculi: civ. 5.21, 'apostatae Iuliano, cuius egregiam indolem decepit amore dominandi sacrilega et detestanda curiositas'.) For the word and the thing, see further on 10.35.54.

Curiositas emerges here in narrative as A. comes to the great city and finds himself surrounded by all manner of marvels. One innocent recollection may date to this awed time: civ. 16.8, 'quosdam [homines] sine cervice oculos habentes in umeris, et cetera hominum vel quasi hominum genera, quae in maritima platea Carthaginis musivo picta sunt, ex libris deprompta velut curiosioris historiae.'

spectacula . . . imaginibus: Students were discouraged by the local authorities from too much spectacle-going: cod. theod. 14.9.1 (12 March 370), 'neve spectacula frequentius adeant'. The same law declared that indiscipline could be punished (at least at Rome and Constantinople) by whippings and forced rustication. A similar moralizing restriction was enjoined upon the young Julian by his tutor Mardonius (Julian, misopogon 351c-d), and Libanius (ep. 976.) thought the theater a distraction for students. A.'s remarks here make it clear that it was the enacted stories that appealed to him most, as later the circus (6.7.11-12) and the gladiatorial combats (6.8.13) would appeal to Alypius; these seem to have been the three main classes of entertainment available to A. (and classed by him as spectacula): s. 198.3, 'delectantur nugatorio spectaculo et turpitudinibus variis theatrorum, insania circi, crudelitate amphitheatri, certaminibus animosis eorum qui pro pestilentibus hominibus lites et contentiones usque ad inimicitias suscipiunt, pro mimo, pro histrione, pro pantomimo [these three are from the theatra], pro auriga [from the circus], pro venatore [from the gladiatorial amphitheater].' 1

Spectaculum in A. is almost always accompanied by verbs of seeing, frequently with word-play on spectare; in this paragraph note 'spectacula', 'spectat', `spectator', `spectat', and add 3.2.3, `spectaculi', 3.2.4, `spectare', 3.8.16, 'spectatores', 3.8.16, 'principandi [1] et spectandi [2] et sentiendi [3] libidine'; the recapitulation at 4.1.1 (parallelling the recapitulation of Bk. 2 at 3.1.1) speaks of 'spectaculorum nugas'.

The appeal is to the concupiscentia oculorum (s. Den. 14.3, 'quae mala facit turpis curiositas, concupiscentia vana oculorum, aviditas nugacium spectaculorum, insania stadiorum, nullo praemio conflictus certaminum!'; cf. Io. ep. tr. 2.13, quoted above). Compare Alypius covering his eyes at the gladiatorial spectaculum, but yielding, 'curiositate victus' (6.8.13); cf. 1.10.16 ('eadem curiositate magis magisque per oculos emicante in spectacula'), 1.13.22, 10.35.54 (`ex hoc morbo [curiositatis] in spectaculis exhibentur quaeque miracula'); theatra also appeal to curiositas (10.35.56). Cf. vera rel. 22.43, 'nec ob aliud a talibus prohibemur spectaculis, nisi ne umbris rerum decepti ab ipsis rebus quarum illae umbrae sunt aberremus'; sim. at vera rel. 49.94, 54.105; and again at trin. 4.11.14. civ. 2.4, 'veniebamus etiam nos aliquando adulescentes ad spectacula ludibriaque sacrilegiorum, spectabamus arrepticios, audiebamus symphoniacos, ludis turbissimis qui diis deabusque exhibebantur oblectabamur, Caelesti virgini et Berecynthiae matri omnium, ante cuius lecticam die sollemni lavationis eius talia per publicum cantitabantur a nequissimis scaenicis qualia non . . . matrem ipsorum scaenicorum deceret audire. . . . quae si inlecta curiositate adesse potuit circumfusa, saltem offensa castitate debuit abire confusa.' civ. 2.26, 'ante ipsum tamen delubrum, ubi simulacrum illud [Caelestis] locatum conspicebamus . . . intentissime spectabamus, intuentes alternante conspectu hinc meretriciam pompam, illinc virginem deam.' See also civ. 1.32-3, 1.35, 2.8, 7.26.

G-M, Theiler P.u.A. 60, and BA all attempt to situate this text in the tradition of ancient discussions of the emotional impact of the theater. There is nothing here in conf. to connect A.'s views with any of the surviving discussions, but he is surely their heir at some distance (at civ. 8.13 he even invokes Plato's suspicion of poets in support of his views). Dominant is surely his own notion of the connection to curiositas. His works nevertheless (including the passages just cited from civ.) offer some glimpses of what the life of the spectacula entailed in the Carthage of his day. See also en. Ps. 103. s. 1.13 ('videtis quid faciat civitas ubi abundant spectacula: in agro securius loquerer'), 146.4, 147.8, s. 241.5 (quoted on 1.13.20, 'Aeneae nescio cuius'). Alfaric 32-33 offers additional texts.
O'Donnell provides even more commentary, but the above remarks are most relevant to our interest in curiosity. I notice that O'Donnell notes that Augustine "invokes Plato's suspicion of poets in support of his views," a point that I raised above. But O'Donnell's opening remark is the most significant: "Curiositas is always a vice for A." As O'Donnell explains, "When we bring our modern incomprehension to A.'s disdain for what is now an unquestioned virtue, we forget that for him curiositas led directly to demons" -- a reminder, however, that probably renders us not so much baffled in our incomprehension as aghast in our revulsion. One has to wonder how much of Augustine's mind remained captivated by a Gnostic distrust of the cosmos.

But let us return to this Blumenbergian theme later...

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Saturday, December 22, 2007

James J. O'Donnell's Augustine: Confessions (Commentary: Curiosity in 10.35.54)

Benozzo Gozzoli (1421-1497), "Take up and read"
Fresco Series, Life of Augustine, Bishop of Hippo

In my curious wanderings about the internet, following the lust of my own eyes for seeable knowledge, albeit 'seeable' only with the mind's 'I', my abstract eye was caught by something foreseeable though unforeseen by me, an up-to-date online annotated edition of Augustine's Confessions, with a commentary that even draws upon Hans Blumenberg.

As the site itself says, "This document is an on-line reprint of Augustine: Confessions, a text and commentary by James J. O'Donnell (Oxford: 1992; ISBN 0-19-814 378-8)."

"Nice find," I thought, then found that I had found it before without realizing its significance. I had drawn from it in my blog entry of December 6 for its online reproduction of the Latin text to Book 10, Chapter 35, Paragraph 54 in Augustine's Confessions:
huc accedit alia forma temptationis multiplicius periculosa. praeter enim concupiscentiam carnis, quae inest in delectatione omnium sensuum et voluptatum, cui servientes depereunt qui longe se faciunt a te, inest animae per eosdem sensus corporis quaedam non se oblectandi in carne, sed experiendi per carnem vana et curiosa cupiditas nomine cognitionis et scientiae palliata. quae quoniam in appetitu noscendi est, oculi autem sunt ad noscendum in sensibus principes, concupiscentia oculorum eloquio divino appellata est. ad oculos enim proprie videre pertinet, utimur autem hoc verbo etiam in ceteris sensibus, cum eos ad cognoscendum intendimus. neque enim dicimus, 'audi quid rutilet,' aut, 'olefac quam niteat,' aut, 'gusta quam splendeat,' aut, 'palpa quam fulgeat': videri enim dicuntur haec omnia. dicimus autem non solum, 'vide quid luceat,' quod soli oculi sentire possunt, sed etiam, 'vide quid sonet,' 'vide quid oleat,' 'vide quid sapiat,' 'vide quam durum sit.' ideoque generalis experientia sensuum concupiscentia (sicut dictum est) oculorum vocatur, quia videndi officium, in quo primatum oculi tenent, etiam ceteri sensus sibi de similitudine usurpant, cum aliquid cognitionis explorant.
Readers will recall that I then posted the translation provided by the Catholic Encyclopedia website:
10.35.54. In addition to this there is another form of temptation, more complex in its peril. For besides that concupiscence of the flesh which lies in the gratification of all senses and pleasures, wherein its slaves who "are far from You perish," there pertains to the soul, through the same senses of the body, a certain vain and curious longing, cloaked under the name of knowledge and learning, not of having pleasure in the flesh, but of making experiments through the flesh. This longing, since it originates in an appetite for knowledge, and the sight being the chief amongst the senses in the acquisition of knowledge, is called in divine language, "the lust of the eyes." (1 John 2:16) For seeing belongs properly to the eyes; yet we apply this word to the other senses also, when we exercise them in the search after knowledge. For we do not say, Listen how it glows, smell how it glistens, taste how it shines, or feel how it flashes, since all these are said to be seen. And yet we say not only, See how it shines, which the eyes alone can perceive; but also, See how it sounds, see how it smells, see how it tastes, see how hard it is. And thus the general experience of the senses, as was said before, is termed "the lust of the eyes," because the function of seeing, wherein the eyes hold the pre-eminence, the other senses by way of similitude take possession of, whensoever they seek out any knowledge.
But we've seen all this before, so why do I again call attention to it here now? Because of the linked commentary with scholarly observations, references, links, and abundant abbreviations (penultimately demystified below) that James J. O'Donnell conveniently provides:
Curiositas (for the concept in A. before conf., see on 3.2.2): the noun (see TLL 4.1489-92; cf. Labhardt, Mus. Helv. 17[1960], 209) occurs only once in Cicero (Att. 2.12.2) and becomes common with Apuleius and Tertullian; the adj. is in Cicero and Varro in senses congruent to its use here several times but then does not occur regularly for another century. (The adj. has a less flattering, earlier sense that appears in Terence, e.g.: 'inquisitive, curious, meddlesome, interfering' [OLD]; and at util. cred. 9.22, A. implies that the word is ordinarily unflattering: 'sed scis etiam curiosum non nos solere appellare sine convicio, studiosum vero etiam cum laude'.) curiosus/curiositas in conf.: 1.10.16, 1.14.23, 2.6.13, 3.3.5, 5.3.3, 5.3.4 (see on 5.3.4 for Ps. 8.8-9 and en. Ps.), 6.8.13, 6.12.22, 7.6.8, 7.6.9, 10.3.3, 10.35.55 (2x), 10.35.57, 10.37.60, 10.42.67; only twice in later books are the three temptations are evoked: 13.20.28, 'genus humanum profunde curiosum', 13.21.30, 'venenum curiositatis' (in both cases in 1 Jn. 2.16 triads).

For an archaic, evasive view: G-M: 'In ages of decadence, such as that in which A. lived, morbid curiosity takes the place of honest, healthy curiosity: jaded nerves and blasé characters crave for unwholesome stimulants.' 26 The dissonance between A.'s mistrust and modern reverence and the difficulty in specifying sources for his attitude have helped give rise to a substantial bibliography. Special note should be taken of the work of H. Blumenberg, whose articles on A. (REAug 7[1961], 35-70 and Studia Patristica 6[1962], 294-302), contribute to his ambitious Die Legitimität der Neuzeit (first ed., Frankfurt, 1966; Eng. trans. from revised edition, The Legitimacy of the Modern Age [Cambridge, Mass., 1983], where see 309-23 on A.). See also H. J. Mette, in Fetschrift Snell (München, 1956), 227-235, on Hermetic connections and the ps.-Apuleian Asclepius, a work A. knew later in his career at least; A. Labhardt, Mus. Helv. 17(1960), 206-24 (from Cicero to Augustine: excellent); R. Joly, Ant. Class. 30(1961), 5-32; and S. Lancel, RHR 160(1961), 25-45 (Apuleius).

Texts from the mature A.: qu. ev. 1.47, 'cupiditati quae in curiositate est, opponitur timor mortis: . . . in illa cognoscendarum est aviditas'; agon. 4.4, 6.6, 12.13; b. coniug. 12.14; Gn. litt. 11.31.41 (on Gn. 3.7, 'aperti sunt oculi eorum' : 'audax curiositas mota est, avida experiri latentia'); trin. 10.5.7, 12.11.16 ('cum enim neglecta caritate sapientiae, quae semper eodem modo manet, concupiscitur scientia ex mutabilium temporaliumque experimento, inflat, non aedificat: ita praegravatus animus quasi pondere suo a beatitudine expellitur'); civ. 3.9, 4.34, 5.21, 5.26, 7.34, 9.16, 10.27, 16.8 ('historici de sua curiositate gloriantes'); en. Ps. 80.19, 101. s. 2.10; c. Iul. 6.7.17 ('contra curiositatem quae minus solet mirari quod potuerit comprehendere, incomprehensibilia esse opera dei').

The strength of A.'s distaste for this element of his own character may be measured by his reaction when, around 410, he encounters a correspondent not unlike his own younger self (Dioscorus: almost certainly not the brother of Zenobius, the dedicatee of ord., though PLRE II [s.v. Dioscorus 2] and some others would identify them). A. rebukes him roundly for his curiositas: ep. 118.1.1, 'ego te autem vellem abripere de medio deliciosarum inquisitionum tuarum et constipare inter curas meas, ut vel disceres non esse inaniter curiosus, vel curiositatem tuam cibandam atque nutriendam imponere non auderes eis quorum inter curas vel maxima cura est reprimere ac refrenare curiosos. . . . vanae atque fallaces cupiditates tuae . . . nescio qua umbra honestatis et liberalium studiorum nomine velatae atque palliatae . . . .'

A.'s own intrinsic 'curiosity' (the sort that leaves him agape at the sight of hound and hare: 10.35.57) is on display at civ. 21.4, 'magnetem lapidem novimus mirabilem ferri esse raptorem; quod cum primum vidi, vehementer inhorrui,' followed by a circumstantial description. The 'miracula' described there and in the following chapters do give a hint of the grounds of A.'s aversion to 'curiositas' : attending to the wonders of nature led, more often than not, to ascribing those wonders to divine powers of various sorts. A.'s own notorious early aversion to miracle-stories in general (see on 9.7.16) probably arises from the same desire to avoid competing, to avoid crediting non-Christian deities with special powers. By the time of civ. 22, he had obviously chosen to compete with the non-Christian gods on their own ground; this decision may be variously judged, but it is at least a sign of increasing confidence in his own position.
O'Donnell's labor in this field (and laboriously put online by Anne Mahoney) will certainly prove labor-saving for me as I delve further into Augustine's critique of curiosity.

To identify the abbreviations located in the passage above, see O'Donnell's "Prolegomena." You'll need to scroll down about a third of the webpage, to 'Abbreviations and Methods of Reference'.

That's all for today because I'm still grading final essays.

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Friday, December 21, 2007

In Search of Lost Time Lost...

(Image from Wikipedia)

I've occasionally posted entries on martial arts expert and memoirist Jacques Sandulescu, a Romanian who at 16 years old was abducted by Soviet troops and sent to a work camp in the coal fields of the Ukraine's Donbas region.

Eventually, after tremendous suffering but also encounters with kindhearted Russians and Ukrainians, he escaped despite horrific injuries from a mine collapse and made his way to the States where he ultimately met the writer Annie Gottlieb and lived happily ever after. Annie relates a recent anecdote. The two of them were watching a History Channel program about Hitler, which set Annie to thinking about the life that Jacques might have led if the politics of fascism and then communism had not erupted in all their enormity. Looking at the image of Hitler onscreen performing a "spittle-spewing oratory," Annie got angry:
I said, "See that sonofabitch? He's the one who destroyed your world. If he hadn't started the war, Stalin might have stayed put. You would have been the mayor of [your town], you would have owned [a large tract of land] . . ."

J said, "But I never would've met you!"
At that Romanian's romantic words, Annie melted: "Awwww. An armful of WWII. Beats roses."

But Jacques is getting on in years, his hardscrabble life has taken its toll, and he gets confused sometimes . . . yet remains alert even in his confusion, as Annie shows:
A: Where are you going?

J: (trying to get up from his wheelchair) To the phone.

A: Who do you want to call?

J: (looking at me like I'm supposed to know) My mother!

A: I'm sorry, baby, your mother died a long time ago.

J: (not missing a beat) Then the phone call won't cost anything.
I hope that I'm that alert when I grow great in years and dimmed in memory.

At the moment, however, I have a lot of grading to do, so I'm breaking off for now. Meanwhile, here's a touching video that also concerns memory, My Name is Lisa, a short story of about six and a half minutes that won third place in some video competition and that both saddens and uplifts.

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Thursday, December 20, 2007

President-Elect Lee Myung-bak: Policy Suggestions from Gypsy Scholar

President-Elect Lee Myung-Bak
"Squinting to the future..."
(Image from JoongAng Ilbo)

In a record voter turnout, Lee Myung-bak has won the presidential election by a landslide -- almost most of all those Korean voters who voted actually cast their votes for him!

Okay, so we've factored down the concept of landslide to mean 50 percent of the vote, or thereabouts, and the record is a record low, but still, the guy won, and that's pretty darn good for a slippery politician who's been caught on video lying about his involvement in the obscure BBK scandal.

Hey, don't think that I'm dissing President-Elect Lee. I happen to kinda like the guy . . . even if he does always squint at me from those supposedly flattering campaign posters.

Anyway, since readers depend on my blog for political insight regarding peninsular matters, then I'm sure that everyone will be interested in my opinion as to what the future holds for Korea's President-Elect Lee.

Doubtless, there are two questions on everyone's mind:
Question 1: Will President Lee Myung-bak be the first Korean president to serve his time serving time?

Answer 1: No. As president, Lee can pardon himself.

Question 2: Will President Lee Myung-bak make a concerted, public effort to alert the whole world to the dangers of electrical fans, namely, the very real risk of fan death?

Answer 2: Definitely yes maybe. This is a very delicate issue upon which every Korean politican has had to tread very lightly. Now, each Korean knows -- and knows to the core of his or her Dokdo soul -- that fan death is real. Absolutely real. No doubts. And I agree with Koreans on this issue, as regular readers will recall. Many a time, I have promoted the truth of fan death on this blog, hoping to alert foreign readers mired in ignorance of the risk that they face on those hot, sultry summer nights in bed when they have to strip down to . . .
But let's not get so specific about that detail.

My point is that fans left running at night can kill you in your sleep, a truth that I've defended ad nauseum on this blog:
Fan Death is Real!

Fan Death Redux

Another fan-death disbeliever!

Doc Rock's diagnosis: "You've been smokin' way too many fans"

Nevertheless, fan death is real!
Okay, five posts in three years of blogging might not constitute an ad nauseum defense, but take a look at the comments, where much of my fan-death defense has been carried on. There, I've faced constant ridicule from non-Koreans who are aggressively ignorant about the scientific truth of fan death and who stoop to the lowest of personal attacks to ridicule me for my views.

I've been called crazy, stupid, drug-addled, ignorant, and even had my scientific knowledge questioned -- yes, questioned, despite my master's degree . . . in history of SCIENCE. Most recently, a commenter calling himself 'Christian' quoted one of my facts and denied it:
"[Hodges stated:] It's a little-known fact that the whirling blades [of a fan] cause disturbance in the ether that pervades the universe, and the ripple effect impairs organisms up to 500 feet distant."

[Christian blathered:] Yeah, that's true, it is so little known that I didnt knew about that. Oh,and btw, aether does not exist, and there was a famous experiment about that in the 19th century (and many other later): Michelson-Morley Experiment.
In my reply to this screed, I ignored Christian's difficulty with orthography and courteously focused upon his appalling scientific ignorance:
Christian, thanks for visiting and posting.

As for the Michelson-Morley experiment, it was obviously flawed. How else explain that those two so-called 'scientists' missed the obvious existence of the ether, the very fifth element known to natural philosophers since antiquity?

Yes, there are only five elements. Forget all that stuff you learned in chemistry. It's utterly wrong.

Only fan death is real.
How can anyone rationally argue with my view? Obviously, I know far more about the ether than 'Christian', who thinks that the ether doesn't even exist! I mean, how ignorant can one get?! Ether has existed since the days of the ancient Greeks!

So, you see what I'm up against in my struggle to publicize the very real risk of fan death. Those people whom I'm trying to save from mortal danger are the very ones who ridicule me.

So . . . I wouldn't blame President-Elect Lee Myung-bak if he opted to ignore the issue of fan death, for he has to deal with foreign policy and can't afford to jeopardize his credibility on international affairs by announcing to a hyperskeptical, disbelieving world that his administration has a position on fan death.

But this Lee administration definitely must take a position, even if an unannounced one, for no device so dangerous as an electrical fan can be ignored, especially since at least one other country does accept the scientific evidence for its deadly effects and is rumored to be pursuing a secretive fan-death program.

I refer, of course, to North Korea.

The danger is clear. A line of towering, gigantic electrical fans can be erected by the Communist North along the DMZ, and the threat of their being turned on at night when all of the South should be sleeping soundly after a hardworking, capitalist day will cause many an anxious, sleepless night and thereby significantly impair the South's economic performance.

To paraphrase the inspiring Churchill's famous words on spine-stiffened resistance to an oppressive regime's infamous, threatening rule:
That is something up with which we shall not put!
Let us echo those Churchillian words! The South must act now to protect itself, for under the progressives' Sunshine Policy of the past eight years, the North has already been left free to forge ahead with a fan-death program, and the South is in danger of falling behind. I therefore appeal to President-Elect Lee Myung-bak to act quickly:
"Mr. President, we cannot allow a fan-death gap!"

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Blumenberg: Cicero on Curiosity as Distraction

Marcus Tullius Cicero
"...when the burden of care is relaxed"
(Image from Wikipedia)

On the ornate steps leading up to the Medieval Christian understanding of curiosity as a vice stands the figure of Cicero in all his ambivalence.

Why ambivalence? Like Augustine -- as Blumenberg explains -- Cicero feels the tug of curiosity but resists:
The naturalness of the cognitive drive is thus both a justification and a danger....

Cicero portrays the danger threatening the curious man by the Homeric image of Odysseus lured by the Sirens, not only by their song but also by the promise of knowledge of all earthly things . . . . Odysseus's conflict in view of the enticements of the Sirens is not a conflict between the aesthhetic and the ethical in our sense but rather between his theorectical curiosity and his native country. Although Odysseus does not succumb to their enticements, it is suggested by the length of his wanderings alone that knowledge was more important to him than his native country. In this context there emerges, in connection with the term curiosus, the negative characterization of curiosity as the longing to know everything. However, this negativity is seen as quite close to the quality of greatness, since being driven by the perception of sublime objects to desire knowledge is characteristic of important men. (The Legitimacy of the Modern Age, p. 281-282)
But as Blumenberg notes, "Cicero himself is marked by the conflict he describes" (Legitimacy, p. 282). For Cicero, curiosity -- albeit a natural drive -- threatens ever to draw him away from his practical duties, so he consoles himself with the promise of an afterlife of study:
Alleviation of doubt about the tasks to which life should be devoted can only come through being convinced of an immortality that promises compensation for everything that curiosity's self-restraint denies itself in view of political duties. Even this Platonizing solution has acquired a different function in Cicero than it could have had in the Greek world. The renunciation of theory seems to be something one can perform without prejudice to one's political and practical capability, so that relegation to the Beyond really can resolve the problematic: ". . . as happens now, when the burden of care is relaxed, we feel the wish for an object of our observation and attention, this will happen much more freely then, and we shall devote our whole being to sudy and examination, because nature has planted in our minds an insatiable longing to see truth; and the more the vision of the borders only of the heavenly country, to which we have come, renders easy the knowledge of heavenly conditions, the more will our longing for knowledge be increased." [cf. "Cicero, Tusculanae disputationes I 44; translation by J. E. King (London and New York: Loeb Classical Library, 1927), pp. 53-54)," Blumenberg, Legitimacy, p. 626, n. 11]

Here the transcendant deferment of the satisfaction of theoretical curiosity, whose pursuit in the circumstances of civic life could only be an exceptional situation like that of Cicero's enforced leisure, does not yet have the Christian visio beatifica's essential differentiation from all earthly access to truth. It is only a matter of degree, a drawing near and improvement of the standpoint of the knower, with, in fact, a clear opposition to the immanence of the Stoa, according to which the human observer was guaranteed the favored standpoint of contemplator caeli [observer of the heavens] by his central position in the universe. At the same time the text makes clear, with the antithesis of care (cura) and contemplation (contemplatio), the basis on which the new formation of curiositas comes about: In illegitimate curiosity the place of the civic/practical concerns and chores is occupied precisely by the theoretical attitude, so that this latter, contrary to its nature, itself becomes a care dominating one's life. (Blumenberg, The Legitimacy of the Modern Age, 282-283)
Blumenberg's basic aim here is to show how curiosity came to be seen as a natural drive that tempts us away from our duty. For Cicero, a natural drive is not inherently bad, but in this life, we have other cares that concern us, duties that we must fulfill. For Augustine, natural drives are inherently suspect due to the fallenness of our human nature, so curiosity as a putative 'natural' drive becomes a sinful distraction from our duty to God and thereby places our soul in mortal danger.

Enough for now. I must turn from this curious distraction and return to my grading...

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Dong-A Ilbo: "Only 2% of Americans are Jews, but they pull the strings"

Percentages of Jews: Ivy League Undergrads
(Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia,
Dartmouth, Brown, Cornell, Pennsylvania)
(Image from Dong-A Ilbo)

Charles La Shure, of the blog Liminality, suggests the above heading to this morning's blog entry as a better English paraphrase for the Korean title of the article by Kong Jong Sik (공종식): "2% 유대인, 미국을 쥐락펴락" (Dong-A Ilbo (동아일보), Saturday, December 15, 2007).

Robert Koehler of the Marmot's Hole also has a discussion going on about this issue, but I'm proud to note that currently (as of 4:45 a.m., 12/18/2008), my post from yesterday has 23 comments to the Marmot's 18 . . . although roughly half of those 23 are my responses to the comments of others, so the Marmot is still ahead (plus, Robert's "hat tip" to me generated many of the comments here at Gypsy Scholar anyway).

But enough of this pissant contest. I have another translation query, namely, how would one translate the following statement from paragraph 11 of Kong Jong Sik's Dong-A Ilbo article?
유대계가 미국에서 이처럼 큰 영향력을 행사할 수 있는 이유는 유대계가 정치, 금융, 법조계, 학계, 언론 등 미국 사회 각 분야에 거미줄처럼 퍼져 광범위한 네트워크를 형성하고 있기 때문이다.
Google's translating engine renders it as this:
Jews in the United States can exercise such a big influence on the Jewish political reasons, finance, law, academia, the media and American society in each area network, forming a broad spread like a spider web, and because.
I'm guessing that this means something like the following:
Jews in the United States can exercise such a big influence on the Jewish political issues, finance, law, academia, and the media because in each area of American society, they form a network spreading out broadly like a spiderweb.
The reference to a 'spreading like a spiderweb' (거미줄처럼 퍼져) sounds especially unpleasant, for it would appear to portray Jews as spiders. Does that comparison sound as bad in Korean as in English? Can somebody with good Korean skills translate this passage? I think that we need to know the precise nuance here, for that would tell us a lot about Kong Jong Sik's views and thus whether or not his article fits the title and main photo (which I have speculated might have been chosen by the Dong-A Ilbo's editors).

Thanks in advance.


Monday, December 17, 2007

Dong-A Ilbo: "America: 2% Jewish, but Manipulated by Jews"

"JEW: 유대인 파워"
("JEW: Jewish Power")
(Image from Dong-A Ilbo)

After church yesterday, my family and I went out to lunch at a local Korean restaurant near Bonghwasan Subway Station, and as we sat down to our table, I happened to glimpse on a neighboring table the flag image that you see above taking up fully one-quarter of page A19 in the International (국제) section of the Dong-A Ilbo (동아일보) for Saturday, December 15, 2007. Concluding that the paper, already a day old, had been left behind by a customer, I took it and brought it home for closer inspection.

I've provided my best translation effort for the Dong-A Ilbo headline in my blog heading above, but someone better in Korean than I will probably need to retranslate it:
"2% 유대인, 미국을 쥐락펴락"
I've asked the Big Hominid, of Hairy Chasms fame, who suggests "2% Jew(ish), Puppeteering America," which he considers a bit awkward, but he adds that the headline alone strikes him as antisemitic. I had considered something like "puppeteering" for "쥐락펴락," but my wife and my daughter both said "manipulating" or "molding." I await a more exact translation.

Much the same goes for the article from which this headline and the unpleasant photo above have been borrowed, i.e., someone more proficient than I will need to take a crack at the whole article.

However, the Korean expression "유대인 파워" superimposed on the flag itself just beneath the equally superimposed majuscule "JEW" is simple to translate. It means "Jewish Power" and apparently implies that Jews are the controlling power in America.

The author of this article, Kong Jong Sik (공종식), who serves as the Dong-A Ilbo's foreign correspondent based in New York might not be the one who chose the headline and the photo, since that's usually an editorial decision, but even if the article itself is merely a report on Jewish influence, the title and photo will nudge the reader toward reading the article as saying that Jews manipulate American policy on Israel.

If the article minus the photos simply notes that Jews have influence greater than would be expected from their tiny percentage of the American population (2% or whatever) because of their remarkably high percentages in various professional fields, then the article might be unobjectionable, but combined with the prominent headline and photo, it seems to go beyond this to suggest manipulation, possibly even control, of America by Jews, and this is where we're led into the realm of conspiracy theory.

Never underestimate the power of visual cues.

But I'll leave the more exact analysis to fellow bloggers here in Korea who have the requisite Korean skills (though experimentalists can copy here and paste here for a rough translation).

I was, however, truly hoping that we'd gotten beyond Lee Won-bok's Far Countries and Close Countries (이원복, 먼나라 이웃나라)...

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