Archive for the Philosophy Category

Conversione di San Paolo

Posted in Painting, Philosophy with tags , , on December 13, 2016 by Dylan Thomas Hayden

caravaggio-damascus

For, it is said that while Saul of Tarsus was carrying out his duties as Commissar of Truth, the Messiah he had been denying appeared before him and convinced him of his error. So, after a bit of soul searching, he quit his job and thereafter dedicated himself to the task of preaching the very doctrine he had been denouncing. And because he was now the persecuted rather than the persecutor, he was effective; everywhere he went he found willing listeners, even in Rome itself. More important than their numbers was the conviction of his converts that in the eyes of God the lowliest in society was equal unto Caesar. The psalm of freedom — of the dignity of the individual — reawakened their souls. Neither the lash nor the dungeon vile nor the wild beasts in the arena could rob them of their self-esteem. By their very suffering and death they transmitted their faith to others, the sect grew, and at long last Caesar capitulated.

From the story of Saul, who came to be known as Paul, we draw the lesson: that when people want freedom they will get it. When the desire of the business man for “free enterprise” is so strong that he will risk bankruptcy for it, he cannot be denied. When youth prefers prison to the barracks, when a job in the bureaucracy is considered leprous, when the tax collector is stamped a legalized thief, when handouts from the politician are contemptuously rejected, when work on a government project is considered degrading, when, in short, the state is recognized to be the enemy of society, then only will freedom come, and the citadel of power collapse.

Considering the temper of the times, the emergence of such a public state of mind would indeed be a miracle. But, in some degree it has happened before and therefore we may hope. When the organized religion of power, known as communism (more properly called statism), shall have destroyed all values, and reduced the individual to a nonentity, will its overthrow by moral force be accomplished. In degrading the individual it destroys itself, simply because the degraded individual loses interest in production and ceases to provide the wherewithal for the state. As the state rots away from malnutrition, the individual begins to reassert himself in something called civil disobedience, passive resistance, or some other kind of revolution, and the contest is all in his favor. Freedom comes when Caesar is no longer able to maintain his legions.

Text: Frank Chodorov, Out of Step: The Autobiography of an Individualist. New York: Devin-Adair, 1962 via
Image: Caravaggio, Conversione di San Paolo, 1601, Santa Maria del Popolo, Roma

Religion is valid poetry…

Posted in Painting, Philosophy with tags , on November 18, 2016 by Dylan Thomas Hayden

giovanni-battista-tiepolo-allegory-of-the-planets-and-continents-1752-met

“…morality and spirit, in my view, express specific and contrary vital interests, as in politics. To assert that one such political or vital interest, say the Jewish or the Anglo-Saxon, coincides with the total inspiration of the universe, is egotism in excelsis, and a plain illusion of animal vanity and egotism. Banish that illusion: the vital and political interest concerned remains standing, but only as one local and temporary movement of animal life on earth. It is its own excuse for being, but it leaves the speculative spirit free to transcend it and to admit equally, in their places, all the other vital and political interests that may arise. I would relax English prejudices in the Catholic and naturalistic direction by a single and consistent insight, not by casual contrary sympathies. Catholicism is paganism spiritualised: it is fundamentally naturalistic; and the transcendental spirit and the wise statesman may accept Catholicism, where it naturally arises, as a good poetic symbol for the forces and the issues of human life in that phase; not, however, as a scientific revelation of reality or a history of literal facts. Religion is valid poetry infused into common life. It is not a revelation truer than perception or than science. Nature, where it breeds life, is undoubtedly animated by a spirit kindred to man’s and to human morality; hence the dramatic sympathy in us with all real or imagined vitality in the universe. Yet this sympathy should chasten rather than inflate us, because it reveals to us how accidental are the objects of our love.”

Text: George Santayana, My Host the World. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1953
Image: Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Allegoria dei pianeti e continenti, 1752, Metropolitan Museum

Agrigentum

Posted in Painting, Philosophy with tags , , , on November 17, 2016 by Dylan Thomas Hayden

pierre-henri-de-valenciennes-agrigentum

“I felt more joyful and breathed more freely, when I passed to the southern coast, and saw something Greek. Agrigentum, in its desolation, left much to the imagination, but stirred it deeply. Not so much the ruins as the magnificent site, as if all the seven hills of Rome had been linked together in a chain, doubled in height, and been made to overhang the forum and the lower town in a broad curve. That vast acropolis must have been a sublime thing. Outwards, on the convex side, it is a sheer precipice; inwards its horns descend to the plain and make it accessible. One of these horns is occupied by what remains of the town. I climbed to the top, partly by steps. There was a little square, with a café, but no vestiges of the temples that must have stood there: for a  reward I saw some large white goats, apparently clean as lambs, browsing among the steep lanes or perched upon the stone enclosures that bordered them. These ancient fortresses, in the days of peace, must have been very domestic and country-like in the simplicity and monotony of their ways. Dull, except for the recurring festivals and the frequent wars, yet well fitted, in both aspects, to fix the character of tragedy and comedy, as the Greeks fixed it, limited, monotonous, liturgical, but intensely felt, profoundly human, wonderfully central and final.

Agrigentum was a colony, suddenly rich, like an American mushroom city, short-lived and ruined even more suddenly than it had grown up; but for its day it was enormous, and it gave birth to a great poet-philosopher, the literary model of Lucretius, and a grander personage, with his tragic end soon enveloped in legend. Both Lucretius and Empedocles are said to have killed themselves, or voluntarily become gods: in any case they saw the world as the gods would: that is to say, as we all should, if we could surmount our accidental humanity and let the pure spirit in us speak through our mouths. I wonder if a mushroom civilisation, by its very thinness and sudden brilliancy, like fire in straw, may not be easier for the spirit to profit by and to transcend than a more deeply rooted tradition.”

Text: George Santayana, My Host the World. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1953
Image: Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes, L’ancienne ville d’Agrigente, 1787, Musée du Louvre

Doric

Posted in Architecture, Philosophy, Photo with tags , , , on November 17, 2016 by Dylan Thomas Hayden

alexander-john-ellis-paestum-1841alexander-john-ellis-paestum-1841a

“…I went to Paestum, and there saw Doric temples for the first time, symbols of severity, simplicity, harmony, and strength. There was the pure vein to be traced in the quartz of Roman accumulations and grossness…

Doric purity is not a thing to be expected again in history, at least not yet. It indicates a people that knows its small place in the universe and yet asserts its dignity. In early Christian art there may be simplicity and naïveté, but never self-knowledge. The aspiration in it is childlike. For anything like Doric fortitude in the West we must look to the castles, not to the churches; and the castles are Christian only by association. Here then was an ultimate point of reference, a principle of manly purity, to mark one extreme in the moral scale of all human arts…”

Text: George Santayana, My Host the World. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1953
Image: Alexander John Ellis, two daguerreotypes of the temple of Hera at Paestum, 1841. via Getty Images

 

The Gods of the Copybook Headings

Posted in Painting, Philosophy, Poetry with tags , on October 26, 2016 by Dylan Thomas Hayden

AS I PASS through my incarnations in every age and race,
I make my proper prostrations to the Gods of the Market Place.
Peering through reverent fingers I watch them flourish and fall,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings, I notice, outlast them all.
We were living in trees when they met us. They showed us each in turn
That Water would certainly wet us, as Fire would certainly burn:
But we found them lacking in Uplift, Vision and Breadth of Mind,
So we left them to teach the Gorillas while we followed the March of Mankind.
We moved as the Spirit listed. They never altered their pace,
Being neither cloud nor wind-borne like the Gods of the Market Place,
But they always caught up with our progress, and presently word would come
That a tribe had been wiped off its icefield, or the lights had gone out in Rome.
With the Hopes that our World is built on they were utterly out of touch,
They denied that the Moon was Stilton; they denied she was even Dutch;
They denied that Wishes were Horses; they denied that a Pig had Wings;
So we worshipped the Gods of the Market Who promised these beautiful things.
When the Cambrian measures were forming, They promised perpetual peace.
They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.
But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “Stick to the Devil you know.”
On the first Feminian Sandstones we were promised the Fuller Life
(Which started by loving our neighbour and ended by loving his wife)
Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “The Wages of Sin is Death.”
In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “If you don’t work you die.”
Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew
And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true
That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more.
As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool’s bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;
And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!
Text: Rudyard Kipling, “The Gods of the Copybook Headings”, Sunday Pictorial 26 October 1919
Image: Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, The Procession of the Trojan Horse into Troy, c. 1760, National Gallery, London

From “De Profundis”

Posted in Philosophy, Writing with tags on October 16, 2016 by Dylan Thomas Hayden

pentonville
Morality does not help me. I am a born antinomian. I am one of those who are made for exceptions, not for laws. But while I see that there is nothing wrong in what one does, I see that there is something wrong in what one becomes. It is well to have learned that.

Religion does not help me. The faith that others give to what is unseen, I give to what one can touch, and look at. My gods dwell in temples made with hands; and within the circle of actual experience is my creed made perfect and complete: too complete, it may be, for like many or all of those who have placed their heaven in this earth, I have found in it not merely the beauty of heaven, but the horror of hell also. When I think about religion at all, I feel as if I would like to found an order for those who cannot believe: the Confraternity of the Fatherless, one might call it, where on an altar, on which no taper burned, a priest, in whose heart peace had no dwelling, might celebrate with unblessed bread and a chalice empty of wine. Every thing to be true must become a religion. And agnosticism should have its ritual no less than faith. It has sown its martyrs, it should reap its saints, and praise God daily for having hidden Himself from man. But whether it be faith or agnosticism, it must be nothing external to me. Its symbols must be of my own creating. Only that is spiritual which makes its own form. If I may not find its secret within myself, I shall never find it: if I have not got it already, it will never come to me.

Reason does not help me. It tells me that the laws under which I am convicted are wrong and unjust laws, and the system under which I have suffered a wrong and unjust system. But, somehow, I have got to make both of these things just and right to me. And exactly as in Art one is only concerned with what a particular thing is at a particular moment to oneself, so it is also in the ethical evolution of one’s character. I have got to make everything that has happened to me good for me. The plank bed, the loathsome food, the hard ropes shredded into oakum till one’s finger-tips grow dull with pain, the menial offices with which each day begins and finishes, the harsh orders that routine seems to necessitate, the dreadful dress that makes sorrow grotesque to look at, the silence, the solitude, the shame – each and all of these things I have to transform into a spiritual experience. There is not a single degradation of the body which I must not try and make into a spiritualising of the soul.

I want to get to the point when I shall be able to say quite simply, and without affectation that the two great turning-points in my life were when my Father sent me to Oxford, and when society sent me to prison. I will not say that it is the best thing that could have happened to me: for that phrase would savour of too great bitterness towards myself. I would sooner say, or hear it said of me, that I was so typical a child of my age, that in my perversity, and for that perversity’s sake, I turned the good things of my life to evil, and the evil things of my life to good.

What is said, however, by myself or by others, matters little. The important thing, the thing that lies before me, the thing that I have to do, if the brief remainder of my days is not to be maimed, marred, and incomplete, is to absorb into my nature all that has been done to me, to make it part of me, to accept it without complaint, fear, or reluctance. The supreme vice is shallowness. Whatever is realised is right.

When first I was put into prison some people advised me to try and forget who I was. It was ruinous advice. It is only by realising what I am that I have found comfort of any kind. Now I am advised by others to try on my release to forget that I have ever been in a prison at all. I know that would be equally fatal. It would mean that I would always be haunted by an intolerable sense of disgrace, and that those things that are meant for me as much as for anybody else – the beauty of the sun and the moon, the pageant of the seasons, the music of daybreak and the silence of great nights, the rain falling through the leaves, or the dew creeping over the grass and making it silver – would all be tainted for me, and lose their healing power, and their power of communicating joy. To regret one’s own experiences is to arrest one’s own development. To deny one’s own experiences is to put a lie into the lips of one’s own life. It is no less than a denial of the soul.

oscar_wilde_signature
16 October 1854 – 30 November 1900

Text: Oscar Wilde, Letter to Lord Alfred Douglas, folios 24-25, January – March 1897, British Museum
Image: Interior of the Model Prison (Pentonville Prison), Illustrated London News, 7 January 1843

I care not . . .

Posted in Greece, Painting, Philosophy, Poetry with tags , , on September 23, 2016 by Dylan Thomas Hayden

jean-bernard-restout-les-plaisirs-danacreon

I care not for the wealth of Gyges the King of Sardis, nor does gold take me captive, and I praise not tyrants. I care to drench my beard with scent and crown my head with roses. I care for to-day ; who knows to-morrow?

Text: Anacreon (c.582 – c.485 BC), The Greek Anthology XI:47 translated by W. R. Paton. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1918
Image: Jean-Bernard Restout (1732 – 1797), Les plaisirs d’Anacréon, date and location unknown