Skip to main content


Showing posts from October, 2012

Stormy Day

Holed up in my apartment watching Hurricane Sandy gather momentum on Trumbull Street.  I can't believe how wonderful this is - two days of classes cancelled, no real pressing danger (as far as I can tell), and extensions on both of my papers.  I had my Aesthetics paper pretty much ready to go yesterday evening, but since I had the extra time I went and reread four of Plato's dialogues that concern art and beauty, and I think my paper got about three times better.  Ditto with Dante, which I am working on now.  This makes me even more excited to work on my PhD - you (sort of) get to determine your own deadlines, or at least you have a really long time to work on papers.  It always seems odd to write these big analyses of topics I've only read once and heard a little lecture about.  Ideas get so much better when they have some time to stew and mingle with the other ideas already in your head.

I used the last hour before the storm hit to walk over to Berkeley College for some…


Prosopon is the Greek word from which we get the English word person.  I'm writing my aesthetics paper now and came across a little footnote in my notes from an Aristotle lecture that touches on a really cool idea - I shouldn't post about it because it's terribly unresearched, but if I note it here I'll remember to come back to it someday.

In ancient Greece, actors wore masks.  They showed emotions not through subtleties in facial expressions but through words and the emotions of the body.  The word prosopon is the word used for mask - "in front of a face."  
That is the term used by the early church to talk about the Trinity, the "three persons."  The notion that a prosopon, the thing in front of the face, is a person doesn't show up until several centuries into Christendom.  
This nuances the way we talk about personhood or selfhood.  It has its origin in the mask that was placed in front of an actor in a drama.

Time is Made for Man

"For time is made for man, and not man for time." - The Cloud of Unknowing

This is one of the "scraps" I've had to trim from my Dante paper, but something I hope to revisit later in this course.  It's so easy to curse time, isn't it, but here's a little selection from an e-mail I received from my dear friend Graham that I wanted to put up here for future reference:

"Malcolm [his tutor at Cambridge] went on a brilliant rant this morning--"If there is no time, there is no distinction, and if there's no distinction, there are no persons, and if there are no persons, there is no love, and everything Paul said falls to pieces. Love can't be the first and the last principle." Love is most definitely the Alpha and Omega--or rather He is love. The very best things in my life always end there. I found an awesome quote in Coleridge's marginalia about eternity: "Now where there is Life, there must be Time—and tho’ God is not in Ti…

Microwave Mug Cookie

I am in the midst of writing my big Dante paper for the semester, but something HUGE just happened that I have been working on since I started grad school:  I have finally mastered the microwave mug cookie.

It's for those long afternoons of studying when I need a freshly baked little treat and don't want the trouble of making a whole batch.  I've made several mediocre single cookies in the past year, but this one was perfection.  This one is whole wheat and vegan, but you can use real butter, milk or egg instead of water, and all purpose flour as it suits your fancy.

In a mug, mix 1 tbsp of butter (I used Earth Balance), 1 tsp sugar, 1 tsp brown sugar, and a drop of vanilla extract.
Add 2 tbsp whole wheat flour, a pinch of salt, a pinch of baking soda, and a pinch of baking powder.
Mix together with the back of a spoon.  Add 1-2 tsp water.  
Add 1-2 tbsp chocolate chips.
Microwave for 45 seconds.  

Who Goes Home?

A short addition to my Ulysses post:

Who Goes Home? is the original title to C.S. Lewis' wonderful account of the journey through the afterlife, The Great Divorce.  There is much to write about Lewis' retelling (sort of) of the Divine Comedy, but right now I want to focus on one specific element.

For Lewis, the afterlife is always seen as the greatest of all possible adventures.  For Lewis, the purgative process consists of deciding to embark upon this journey.  It is questing perfected.  In the Narnia stories, heaven is referred to as "Aslan's Country" - the mountains are taller; the rivers are wider, deeper, and colder; the vegetation is unbending and rigid; the creatures are enormous, radiant, and perfect.

Lewis got it.  He felt the heat of the desire to quest.  He understood why knights engaged in chivalric conquest and fought in tourneys; he knew why Ulysses sought isle after isle; he also knows that the horizon is the one thing that is always impossible to…

Amore, L'Ardore, Valore

Love, Ardor, Valor.

These are three essential rhymes in Canto 26 of Dante's Inferno, the episode in which Dante meets Ulysses.  We just talked about this canto in class and I can't seem to move on with my day.

In The Odyssey, Ulysses spends 20 years trying to make it back to Ithaca to his wife, son, father, and kingdom, and he encounters numerous trials and temptations that impede his great journey home.  Sometimes the holdups are not his fault, but often he is taken in by a tempting woman or caught up in his own curiosity and needs to go explore.

In Dante's version, Ulysses takes his exhausted crew on a wild goose chase after who knows what.  He is not urged to return home by the amore of Penelope, for the ardore to "gain experience of the world" and learn of human valore cannot be quenched.  Remarkably, Dante rewrites the ending of the epic of all epics, turning Ulysses, the ultimate homecomer, into a man driven to death by his thirst for adventure.  Dante h…

Fraud and Fiction

Just a few little notes before bed.
Text: Inferno, Cantos 16 and 20
Dante is leading us through Malebolge, the realm of fraud in Inferno.  The worst, in his opinion.
At times self-consciously and at other times critically of others, Dante keeps talking about the inherent fraud in any work of fiction.  Fiction isn't true.  It's all made up.  And yet humans have always been compelled to create it.
How interesting that this thing which is objectively not true is one of our best ways to communicate truth.  Dante seems concerned that he is using an untrue account of hell to illuminate the evils of fraud, but he persists because he draws a line between fraud and fiction.  He's convinced he's not a hypocrite.
Fraud moves toward deceit.  Fiction is capable of truth-bearing.  I am sure every self-critical storyteller has wondered where the line is because, in order to accomplish its task, fiction must deceive the reader in some sense by creating a textual world that, becaus…