Odious and Peculiar

Philology and esoterica: scribblings, ravings and mutterings.

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Forging the Sampo

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The Little Bookroom
The Pumpkin King
Larissa Archer
Inverted Iambs
Eve Tushnet
Natalie Solent
Pamela Dean
Kambodia Hotel
Pen and Paper

Charles Darwin's Beagle Diary
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NASA's Mars Website
Classics Online
Perseus Digital Library
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Letter from Hardscrabble Creek
Arts & Letters Daily
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Chas Clifton's Nature Blog
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Girl on a Whaleship
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Laputan Logic
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Vladimir Dinets: Polymath Russian Adventurer
Virtual Tour of Almaty, Kazakhstan
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USGS Earth As Art
Panoramic Aerial Maps of the American West

The Internet Bird Collection
Bird Families of the World
Ancient Scripts
The Aberdeen Bestiary Project
The Cephalopod Page
The Ultimate Ungulate
The Red Book of the Peoples of the Russian Empire
USGS Streamflow Data

Worthy Miscellany
Finno-Ugrian Music
Boojum Expeditions
American River Touring Association

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Thursday, March 23, 2006
I am become Death, destroyer of, well, of blackberries, mostly. I have been machete-ing the vile vines wheresoever I find them, which is unpleasant work. If you don't get the swing right, the vine bounces back at you, latches on to your flesh, and whispers terrible secrets about the Elder Ones who live beyond the stars. Maybe not that last, but it certainly feels like it when you're in the middle of a thicket of red-green tentacles and the wind picks up. Ia!

To avoid considerance of the Old Ones and the accompanying loss of sanity, I let my mind wander. This state is actually conducive to thought, since my internal censors are dealing with preventing loud profanity. Thus I can sidle up to my thoughts and surprise them before they disappear.

So what do I think about as I am lashed by brambles? A number of things, but I got to thinking about the unity of love. I am in good company here: the Pope's Christmas encyclical on the subject says things far better than I could hope to. His conclusion is that "[f]undamentally, “love” is a single reality, but with different dimensions; at different times, one or other dimension may emerge more clearly."

We think of love as different things under a single name. Friendship, sexual love, charity--the Greeks broke it down that way and would, I think, have seen little reason to combine the concepts into one. Indeed, the exchange between Christ and Peter at the end of the Book of John:
So when they had broken their fast, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of John, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs.

He saith to him again a second time, Simon, son of John, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Tend my sheep.

He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of John, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep.
...makes a great deal more sense in Greek, where Christ asks the first two times if Peter agape loves him, and Peter replies that he, Peter, philos loves him. The third exchange both use philos.

The Pope also uses the example of the Song of Songs. "We can thus see how the reception of the Song of Songs in the canon of sacred Scripture was soon explained by the idea that these love songs ultimately describe God's relation to man and man's relation to God." We are, then, to feel a longing for God just as we feel a longing for our spouse.

This idea of an erotic quality to the search for goodness is an element of a number of the thinkers I like. I'm tempted to claim that Confucius felt it, in the way that he took the Book of Odes and its love poetry, and used quotes from it to illustrate correct behavior. "It is by the Odes that the mind is aroused; it is by the rules of propriety that the character is established; it is from Music that the finish is received." Confucius, it should be remembered, was so moved by music that the first time he heard the music of Shen he tasted nothing for three days. Confucius' desire for goodness, like everything about him, is in excellent taste, but it is no less sincere, constant, or powerful for that.

The Stoics, too, felt this longing, although they would have claimed that their interest was wholly rational. But who can read Epictetus without feeling that he burned with desire?
Wilt Thou that I continue to live? Then will I live, as one that is free and noble, as Thou wouldst have me. For Thou hast made me free from hindrance in what appertaineth to me. But hast Thou no further need of me? I thank Thee! Up to this hour have I stayed for Thy sake and none other's: and now in obedience to Thee I depart.


Whatsoever place or post Thou assignest me, sooner will I die a thousand deaths, as Socrates said, than desert it. And where wilt Thou have me? At Rome or Athens? At Thebes or on a desert island? Only remember me there!
This erotic longing for goodness is so striking that I worry a great deal about my lack of it. I do what is right grudgingly at best and with a feeling that everyone had better appreciate the sacrifice I'm making in trying to be a good person, rather than chasing joyfully after goodness without a thought of anything else. I am not attracted to the Good; or if I am, I keep it hidden, to disguise my failure to be good as successful apathy. This self-deception is too often triumphant. It is, of course, pride that keeps me from confessing my desire, and I've so suppressed it that I feel it only sporadically anymore. It takes quite a shove to make me realise how much I would like to be good.

I don't know about anyone else, but Pascal's "distraction from wretchedness" becomes more and more my motivation. I find myself singing, not because I like the song, but because old iniquities are coming to mind and I don't want to remember them. I read while I watch movies, because with only one distraction I might notice my fallen state, and the knowledge of how low I am is intolerable. A tutor once said to me that as he got older he sympathised more and more with the villains of 19th century literature. I didn't understand when he told me; I dislike understanding it now.

The only reason I ever do anything good is because the idea of being caught doing something "not good" is so humiliating. It's like "good publicity," rather than public scandal. And I always have the TV on, too, in case my mind wanders from the book I'm reading or the essay I'm writing. and if I sense that a moment is approaching for which I have nothing to distract me from the jagged chasm that is my undistracted mind, I check my email. So please email me a lot. Therapy is expensive.
But a machete from the Army surplus story is cheap!

This post was gloomier than I intended. I don't really feel miserable. But I do feel that the weight of sin is intolerable.

Larissa, we need to get real jobs.
Why not go into teaching or writing?

You'd all get paid to think.

Have any of you ever considered starting a school?
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