Tuesday, November 22, 2022

It's That Time Again

Do you have World Cup fever? Then you'll want to read my four-year-old blog post on the subject.

Do you detest everything to do with the World Cup and want to go into hiding until it's over? Then you'll want to read my four-year-old blog post on the subject.

And while you're out at it, check out Baddiel, Skinner, and Brodie's impish updating of their now-traditional classic. (The Lightning Seeds are one of my favourite bands.) It could have been awful, but I think they pulled it off.

A Laudable Inititative

I was contacted by someone who has set up a new online encyclopedia called The Saint John Chrysostom Encyclopedia.

He explains his reason for the venture thus: "If one really looks on the Internet for information, one ultimately ends up with the conclusion that there really is no unbiased, realistic, and true, encyclopedia on the internet, that all (or at least the vast majority) websites promising such a thing are either clearly deceptive (that is, are clearly hateful of the truth or are run/managed by those who are against it), or detail only a few subjects.

"The Saint John Chrysostom Encyclopedia was created as a response to that, so that one may truly have an unbiased and true source in all knowledge of life, whether it be religious, mathematical, scientific, historical, etc. One might already say, "how could an encyclopedia that already has a religious nature be unbiased?", yet that is an ignorant proposition as all men are religious, whether they acknowledge it or not, and all men are biased, simply for the truth or against it.

"Simply put, the goal of this encyclopedia is to learn the truths of life, so that we may follow it to wherever it may lead to, without looking back."

You can access it here. He is also seeking volunteers to help build it up.

I wish all the best to this new venture. 

(I'll be a bit curmudgeonly for a moment and admit that sometimes I'm irritated at how the word "truth" is often brandished in Catholic circles. I was having this debate with a Catholic friend just yesterday. Yes, I believe in the truth of the Catholic faith. But Catholics don't have a monopoly on truth (the Pope is not an authority on philately, for instance), and truth-seekers of good faith exist in every religion, and also among non-believers. But there, that's me being a grump.)

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Thoughts on an Open Day

On Saturday I spent three hours manning the library stand at the UCD Open Day in the O'Reilly Hall. I enjoyed it greatly. That kind of event appeals to me in a way that's hard to explain. I decided that trying to explain it might make a good blog post.

First and most obviously, the sound of an open day is my favourite sound in the entire world: the hum of voices in the air, blended into each other so that individual voices and words can hardly be heard.

What can I say about this sound? To me it has always been the sound of excitement, of life, of hustle and bustle and activity.

But it goes deeper than that. It seems evocative of so many things of the things I love; tradition, folklore, legend, proverb, collective memory, community, and so forth.

Vox populi, vox Dei. "The voice of the people is the voice of God". This proverb might not be literally true, but I like its grandeur. I like everything that has been hallowed by multitudes over generations; sayings, nursery rhymes, fairy stories, customs, and so forth.

I love the television coverage of general elections precisely because it so often features this sound, especially when it comes to reports from election centres. It's also an example of what makes this sound so exciting. It's the sound of humanity making history, making stories, working out its destiny. It's the sound of the battle of ideas, the dance of ideas.

Another reason I enjoy open days and conventions is because of their free-form, "buffet" format. I like how people can move from stand to stand, stall to stall, exhibition to exhibition according to their own preference. I savour the atmosphere of many things happening at once.

Like most conservatives, I spend a lot of time lamenting things we have lost, looking backwards. But one thing I do like about modern society is its sheer variety and diversity. Yes, modern urban and suburban life can be very alienating and lonely. Like many people, I'm nostalgic for a time of close-knit communities where everybody knew everybody and shared a common culture.

But the flip side of this is the richness of modern life, especially in the era of the internet. There is a bewildering number of interest groups, sub-cultures, activities, ideological currents, and so forth. Pluralism is a good thing in itself. How to get back to tight-knit communities without losing this benign pluralism is a challenge for the future.

I'm rather lucky in my own job, since UCD is a sort of tight-knit, self-contained community of its own, one that also reflects almost every aspect of human life. I'm vey grateful for it.

Thursday, November 3, 2022

The Sky and the Ground

Sometimes I think the greatest pleasure in life, after chocolate, is contemplation. I think some distinguished people have suggested this before me.

In recent months, or perhaps recent years (it's hard to tell), I've been taking tremendous pleasure in contemplating one aspect of life. I think the best way I can describe it is the contrast between the almost-infinite freedom of the human soul and the intractability of circumstances. I take pleasure in both these things, and also in their collision, or marriage, or whatever you want to call it.

First of all, the freedom of the soul. Lots of people have rhapsodised about this. "Stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage". "I could be bound in a nutshell, and consider myself king of infinite space." Or the line from the Shawshack Redemption: "You get busy living or you get busy dying". There are so many stories of how people have transcended imprisonment, concentration camp, paralysis, etc. etc. to achieve something great or just affirm life. Stories like those of Helen Keller, Christy Brown, etc. Every moment offers infinite possibilities, even in the realm of consciousness and imagination. Louis MacNeice wrote about how Rembrandt made "the little world he knew world without end."

But then, there is just the opposite; the objectivity and reality of the world, all of the circumstances that we can't change no matter how much we want or how much we try. True, these are often simply tragic: tumours, mental illness. But mostly it strikes me as a very joyous and bracing reality. No matter how smart or rich or charismatic or dreamy you are, whether you are Napoleon or Leonardo Da Vinci or William Blake or anyone else, you can't remake the world in your image. We all live in history, time, place, background, etc.

The idea I'm trying to describe is very hard to articulate, but I think Chesterton put it best in "Wonder and the Wooden Post": "I am interested in wooden posts, which do startle me like miracles. I am interested in the post that stands waiting outside my door, to hit me over the head, like a giant's club in a fairy tale. All my mental doors open outwards into a world I have not made. My last door of liberty opens upon a world of sun and solid things, of objective adventures. The post in the garden; the thing I could neither create nor expect: strong plain daylight on stiff upstanding wood: it is the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes."

I remember feeling this joy when I was a kid visiting my aunt's farm and I had to walk about a mile to get to the nearest shop. 

The image that always comes into my mind is a merry-go-round, history and life as a merry-go-round and all of us, great and small, going up and down on the horses of circumstances. I also think of the title of the Anthony Powell novel sequence I found so disappointing: A Dance to the Music of Time.

But, again, it's the combination of these things that brings me the most joy. The sky meeting the ground.

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

All Souls' Day

The days grow short. The dead seem very near.
Today we pray for the souls that we hold dear.
And whatever love we lacked, in the days of old,
We can show them now, increased a thousandfold.

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

The Book of Faces

Life has been quite hectic recently. I turned forty-five on Saturday. It feels strange. I don't feel any older than twenty-five.

Although I haven't had time to blog, I'm always posting on Facebook. I generally post on Facebook several times a day. It's just so user-friendly. My mind jumps all over the place all the time, I have a lot of thoughts, and it only takes a few minutes to tap out a Facebook post.

Here are some of my recent ones. They may be of interest. At least they'll keep the blog ticking over.

* * * *

The world is changing so quickly that I have a strange sensation of perpetually living in the past. The technology we are using today will be vintage almost instantly. This consideration makes me cherish it rather than resent it. The same applies to social forms and institutions. I already think of libraries full of books, for instance, as survivals on the verge of extinction. Or the phrase "ladies and gentlemen". Or a hundred other things.

* * * *
I've resolved to "follow" all my Facebook friends. I'm intrigued by the people who write post after post full of rock-solid polemical certainty. How can anyone be so sure about everything? And so sure other people are just plain wrong?

I mean, I'm plenty opinionated, but the things I feel sure about seem like a small island of light in an ocean of darkness. I'm not even sure I'd like to live under floodlights that illuminate as far as I can see in every decoration. Through a glass darkly seem more appropriate for the human condition.

* * * *

The new British Prime Minister represents Richmond in North Yorkshire. It's one of the few places in the world I've been. The second place outside of Ireland that I went to, after London.

I was watching History of Britain by Simon Schama and admiring all the hilly country he showed in it. I had a hunger to go to some hilly part of England, went to my map, and picked a town in a hilly place. It was Richmond. It took two trains and a bus to get there.

It was picturesque but not much to do there. I spent most nights sitting in an almost-empty hotel lounge looking out at an almost-empty town square, drinking brandy and Cokes and reading DH Lawrence. I was increasingly in revolt against modern life and Lawrence appealed to me for that reason. I was reading his Apocalypse, the last book he wrote, a commentary on the book of the Bible. It contributed to my growing sense that all roads lead to Christ, though I wasn't there yet. I still remember the barman giving me a free brandy and Coke one of the nights.

Wikipedia tells me that "Richmond in Yorkshire was the origin of the place name Richmond. It is the most duplicated UK place name, with 56 occurrences worldwide." I was destined to spend a lot of time in one of them.

* * * *

The famously complacent, triumphalist, bad old Catholic Ireland (below). From what I've seen of old magazines and other publications, this sort of self-questioning was the norm rather than the exception.

* * * *

I see a lot of memes like this (below). I find myself wondering who exactly is being "gotcha'd" by this? I have never met a single person who put themselves on Team Emotion over Team Facts. Progressives certainly don't. They think conservatives are anti-science and anti-truth, just as conservatives think liberals are the same.

So if your response is: "Well, liberals think men can be women just because of how they'll FEEL", I can produce you thousands of liberals who think that conservatives are heartlessly ignoring scientific evidence that transexuals need to be treated as the opposite sex because, well, depression, suicide, supposed hate crimes....I don't believe any of this stuff, but the point is that both sides are appealing to facts or supposed facts. The PRINCIPLE is not in dispute.

* * * *
My aunt, who was a farmer's wife, had a picture of the cows coming home (literally) in her parlour. It was quite a broad landscape with the cattle as relatively small figures in it, very rugged terrain. And once, when I was lodging in a house in Stillorgan, there was a picture halfway up the stairs showing geese or ducks or something flying over marshy land.

I often think of those pictures and feel a sense of calm and tranquility, even all these years after they left my life.

Noel Coward famously said: "Extraordinary how potent cheap music is." Ditto cheap art. These were both the kind of paintings you might buy in a charity shop or sale of work or some such place.

* * * *
Reading the Letter to the Corinthians and indeed all the epistles always gives me a strange feeling. They have a unique aura of naivety combined with authority. They seem ancient in a way that can't be measured in centuries, primordial. I always feel I am looking at the undergirding of our whole culture and civilisation.

My Carmilla article in Ireland's Own

I was delighted that my article on Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu's Carmilla was chosen to be featured on the cover of the Ireland's Own Halloween Special. Beautiful painting illustrating it by Steven Brown.

You can read the opening of the article on the Ireland's Own website here, but if you want to read more you'll have to subscribe!

(Despite the typo on the web version of the article, I am no relation to Le Fanu!)

The issue also contains my profile of Fr. John O'Connor, the Irish priest who received G.K. Chesterton into the Catholic Church, and who also provided the inspiration for his Father Brown character.