Archive for September, 2015

What do you seek?

September 22, 2015

Closer to Truth is a long-running PBS series in which Robert Lawrence Kuhn travels the world discussing “the big questions” — about science, the cosmos, philosophy, and religion — with thoughtful and interesting people who, by and large, know what they are talking about. I’ve watched a smattering of episodes, enough to notice that Kuhn’s usual line with religious figures and theologians is that while he would very much like to believe in God, he is still searching for good reasons. Watch enough episodes and you notice that he searches and searches but doesn’t seem to get anywhere.

I don’t know which episode this clip comes from, but it’s a particularly good one because his interlocutor, the Anglican priest-theologian Sarah Coakley, does something I’ve not heard anyone do with him before, which is interrogate his definition of “good reasons”. She’s quite wonderful.

I know I’ve heard of Sarah Coakley before, but I can’t think of the context.

Apuleius: The Golden Ass

September 14, 2015

The Golden Ass
Translated from the Latin by Sarah Ruden
(Yale, 2012) [c.180]
288 p.

Apuleius’ title for his rollicking tale is Metamorphoses but in English it is usually called The Golden Ass, after St. Augustine’s derisive reference to it in The City of God (viz. Asinus Aureus). It is a work of some historical importance, being the only Latin novel to survive in its entirety, and being a relatively rare example of comedy surviving from the classical period.

The story is about one Lucius, whose immoderate interest in magic results in his being accidentally transformed into an ass. To undo the magic he must eat roses, but unfortunately for him they are in short supply, and the book recounts the many adventures (or, better, misadventures) he endures in the meantime. Embedded into Lucius’ own story are a number of independent stories told by characters he meets, so that the book has a structure reminiscent in some ways of The Canterbury Tales or The Decameron, though for Apuleius the tales-within-the-tale emerge more haphazardly. The longest of these embedded stories, accounting for roughly one-fifth of the total length of The Golden Ass, is the myth of Cupid and Psyche, which apparently makes its first appearance in (surviving) Western literature here.

Sarah Ruden says in her introductory remarks that she tried, in her translation, to capture the colloquial, sometimes obscene character of the original, and, whether she in fact succeeded or not (which, being no Latinist, I am not in a position to judge), her version certainly has those qualities. Though Lucius’ trials are often hilarious, there was more than one occasion on which I simply grimaced and flipped to the next page. For the most part, however, the storytelling is amiable, if not altogether engrossing, and the tales are recounted with considerable verve and wit.

In the last of the eleven books the tone changes markedly as Lucius, in a final bid to regain his human form, appeals to the goddess Isis, and indeed is granted several splendid visions of her. Here the writing achieves a grace and beauty at which the earlier books had only hinted. David Bentley Hart considers this final section of the book in detail in an interesting essay that is worth your time.

Happy birthday, Mr. Pärt

September 11, 2015

Today Arvo Pärt celebrates his 80th birthday. Here is a nice little vignette about him:

He seems like such a lovely man; how I would love to meet him someday. There are very few composers in the past 100 years whose music means as much to me.

A piece I have been listening to frequently over the past few months is Cantiques des degrés, a setting of Psalm 121. It’s a very beautiful composition:


A few other Pärt-related posts from days gone by:


September 9, 2015

Forcing staff to start work before 10am is tantamount to torture and is making employees ill, exhausted and stressed, an Oxford University academic has claimed.

Before the age of 55, the circadian rhythms of adults are completely out of sync with normal 9-to-5 working hours, which poses a “serious threat” to performance, mood and mental health.

I’ve been saying this for years, based on hard personal experience. Read all about it. Now, if only there were a way to make the circadian rhythms of children align with those of adults we’d be laughing.

Here and there

September 4, 2015

Links to a few interesting things that have come my way in the past few weeks:

  • An unexpectedly deep and moving interview with Stephen Colbert from the pages of, of all things, GQ magazine. I don’t count myself a “fan” of Colbert, exactly, having not really seen enough of him to feel strongly one way or another, but this interview has certainly increased my respect for him.
  • Two years ago in my annual “best films” summation I praised the films of Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne. Steven Greydanus has recently written a longer, more informed essay on their work, and I recommend it.
  • The 52 Authors project continues to roll at Light on Dark Water, and one of the most recent entries is on G.K. Chesterton. Louise did a nice job with it, and it is well worth reading.
  • Those undercover videos exposing Planned Parenthood have been creating quite a stir, at least in certain quarters. Writing in Crisis, Monica Miller defends the tactics used to obtain the videos. I understand the argument that the videos are morally tainted because the sting involved deception and lies and lying is a great evil. I understand the argument that pro-lifers, who already occupy the moral high ground, should not stoop to unethical means to advance their good cause. On the other hand, my moral intuition is that David Daleiden has done something heroic, worthy of praise and not blame. It is not clear to me that in making that judgement I am guilty of letting the end justify the means. Miller helps me to reflect on that moral intuition.
  • If you haven’t heard about the Planned Parenthood videos, it could be because your favourite news source is in bed with the organization. Also at Crisis, Joseph Schaeffer has written a detailed examination of apparent conflicts of interest within major media companies. This essay, I believe, deserves to be widely read because it addresses an aspect of the coverage that I haven’t seen elsewhere.
  • Meanwhile, at the New York Times, Ross Douthat has been doing yoeman’s work defending the pro-life cause against objections and misunderstandings: Part I and Part II.
  • Finally, to end on a happy note, let’s have some music. The cello is my favourite instrument, and I’ve amassed quite a collection of music written for it, but only today did I discover Heitor Villa-Lobos’ Bachianas Brasileiras No.1, written not just for the cello, but for a whole ensemble of cellos! Here is the final fugue: