“You know, friend Beelzebub,” said Mephistopholes, “The rule of three controls all of reality.”
“Yes, Master,” replied his smitten servant.
“Once I plug my machine in,” exclaimed the evil genius, “The world is mine. Text, context and subtext; melody, harmony and rhythm; plot,theme and setting. I can irrevocably own mankind, each individual’s very soul. Any fool can win deliberately evil sadistic people to us. These three switches, however, merely by distorting things, can bring all those well-intentioned characters to us too. Yes, that’s all it takes. Just juggle things around so they don’t understand.”
If I were ever to be asked to devise a new zodiac sign for people who were born around my birthday, and to base it upon my character traits, it would have to incorporate my obnoxious sense of humor and imagination, along with all my intellectual interests and my perpetual tendency to be quite exceptionally suspicious and to feel uncomfortable with all things new, and with change. Those are perhaps the most significant properties I possess. People born around the tame time of year as I could be expected to have quite an insanely annoying tendency to bug the hell out of each other, and people in general, with all manner of silly antics. Our sense of the absurd would keep people truly on their toes by necessity. We all should have a tendency to think things through by way of a profoundly intense manner of considering things from the point of view of the conservative intellectual tradition, poring over the collected works of all the great minds who have contributed to western theology, philosophy, history and literature among other disciplines. Someone with a birthday during our time of year would also be known as perhaps a bit too much of a stick in the mud, entirely on unfriendly terms with change, and with a quite inordinate interest in the past. If someone under this sign simply inevitably must face up to change, he would only be capable of accepting it, grudgingly, if it happened quite slowly and incrementally. He’d be a bit on the oddly absent minded side, having a significantly easier time remembering things from decades in the past than from his every day life in the here and now. Assuming he could handle an intense dose of impatience and anxiety he’d be quite a jolly good character. The official symbol for this sign would be the beady-eyed square because we’re all such a bunch of beady-eyed squares, now aren’t we? Of course everyone knows that belief in horoscopes is just an ignorant backwoods superstition but if there were such a thing, that’s what mine would be like.
I’d say that I enjoy both fiction and non-fiction about the same, though for different reasons. Right now I’m reading Longfellow’s poem, “Evangeline” and Jane Austen’s novel, “Sense and Sensibility”. I’m also reading “The Story Of A Soul” by St. Therese of Lisieux. I’ve always been interested in novels and poems because they allow me to travel to other places and time frames. I can permit my imagination to get entirely out of control. A well written novel or poem also can teach interesting lessons about human nature. Dostoyevsky’s “The Brothers Karamazov” and Evelyn Waugh’s “Brideshead Revisited” are exceptionally good examples of this. One problem with Dostoyevsky, though, is that he tends to be exceptionally didactic. Reading something of his always makes me feel as if it’s written in the form of a thinly disguised theology and philosophy lecture.I’ve always enjoyed seeing how many different symbols I can see in various works of literature. Two of the most famous examples of symbolism in classic western literature are a bookworm character, who reads a story within the story, a convention begun by Cervantes in “Don Quijote”, and travel, begun by St. Augustine of Hippo in his “Confessions”. Among works of non-fiction, I especially enjoy biographies, and classic works of theology and philosophy. By now I’ve read very many biographies of a wide variety of famous people, including writers, politicians, musicians and saints. Although I only have thirteen credits in philosophy, and no college credits in theology, I’ve always had quite a voracious interest in those fields. As a lay Carmelite I’ve read all the Carmelite classics I’ve been able to find. Since I really like to get involved in a good debate about the culture war, reading these kinds of things keeps me well informed.
Officially, true beauty-the kind Plato, Socrates, Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas referred to, is quite an objective concept. John Keats, in his “Ode on A Grecian Urn”, and Emily Dickinson, in her “I Died For Beauty,” wrongly see beauty and truth as synonymous. Of the three transcendentals, beauty, truth and goodness, all are based on an objective standard. but it’s understandable that one could see them from a subjective point of view. I recently read something in an article in Communio Magazine, that said that St. Thomas argued that it was very important to recognize truth’s subjective dimension. In its everyday usage, of course, “beauty”, outside a theology or humanities classroom, is an undeniably subjective concept. As long as that’s understood, it’s quite nice for different individuals and groups to have differing standards of what strikes them as appealing. Since I’ve always been quite obsessively interested in the humanities, this is such an interesting concept for me. Man’s understanding of a rightly ordered relationship among the transcendentals has quite dire consequences morally and ethically. A people who admire and respect ugliness in art will also admire ugliness in life in general. They will see the false as true and the evil as good.
I should like to think that if somewhere over the course of the first few decades of the sixth century, an archaeologist of that era were to stumble upon the remains of my life, and to find my things all entirely intact, he would be able to say that early twenty first century man possessed some exceptionally interesting means of communication and of transportation, and that we were quite the snappy dressers. By then, of course, man may no longer use the same words we do to describe things, so they may not recognize, at first, all the things they find. There’s always the risk that people of the future may be a bit snobby about all they will then have. They will still have to admit, though, that man in the beginning of the twenty first century had all kinds of advantages, about things pertaining to communication, transportation, cleanliness and style. There would also be the matter of all my reading material, most of which is from the world of liberal arts and the humanities. Judging by what someone can find out from only my supply of literature, people will then end up assuming that man during our day was quite seriously interested in things like history, literature, philosophy and theology. They will also have to assume that music made quite a significant kind and degree of difference to people of our day. Everyone knows about my profound interest in many different musical styles. Most significant with me specifically may be my insatiable obsession with the past. People of the future will be forced to get the impression, from the looks of life in my world, that life during our era was significantly steeped in reflection upon bygone times. If someone finds any references to me specifically as an individual, I should expect him to go away pondering the once-upon-a-time world of a literate, articulate square with a penchant for the offbeat.
If I could have the ability to build a magical tunnel by way of which I could secretly travel, at will, to the location of my choice, I should really like to go to Europe. I understand that all the liberals must think I’m so ignorant, racist, yada yada yada, because the Third World doesn’t interest me one bit, but I don’t care what they think. That’s all part of the fun of things for me. Europe has always struck me as being the source of all the very best of the world’s history, literature, theology, philosophy and art among other things. As everyone knows, I’ve always been quite smitten with western culture, including all things European. I could visit Spain, Italy, France, Holland and Ireland, home of many significant Carmelites. There are all sorts of museums I should very much like to see. I could walk in the footsteps of people ranging from Shakespeare and Milton, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, among others. I realize that while I’m there I shall have to try to figure out how at least to understand a little of each of very many languages, and that the driving will get me quite frustrated. The food, from what I’ve heard, isn’t necessarily anything to brag about either in certain places. Those, however, will be only slight problems compared to all the advantages I could be afforded by way of such easy and convenient access to such an interesting environment.
I’ve been a lay Carmelite for most of the twenty first century. For that reason St. John of the Cross, who along with St. Teresa of Avila co-founded the Discalced Carmelites in Spain during the second half of the sixteenth century, has always been quite a favorite patron saint and mentor of mine. The problem with Sanjuanist literature, though, is that he wrote in such a dry didactic manner that it’s always been quite difficult for the average individual to understand him. Unlike Saints Teresa of Avila, Therese of Lisieux and several other famous Carmelites, who wrote in every day language that can be understood by the common man, Saint John tended to write in a formalized style which only Carmelite Religious can be expected to recognize. I’ve read quite a lot both by and about Saint John so I know that he was quite an exceptionally easygoing and approachable man and that his writings were geared toward teaching each and every specific individual how he should live out the demands of his specific life and vocation. It provides much of the foundation for the Little Way of St. Therese of Lisieux. Saints such as Teresa and Therese, unlike John, wrote about common everyday occurrences and circumstances. Saint John, though, as a mystical theologian, always wrote in terms of God’s action upon the soul and his vocabulary is too thick do be dealt with except by way of extreme caution and attention to detail. In the prologue of Book I of “The Ascent of Mt. Carmel”, John writes about “love’s urgent longings”, saying that “Love is repaid by love alone”, and that “In the evening of our lives, we shall be judged by love alone”. Too many people have tried to understand John without a legitimate regard for text, context and subtext. Because of the complexity of John’s work, significant caution must be exercised in reading anything of his. Unfortunately Saint John is too frequently perceived as unapproachable and intimidating, although according to legitimate Sanjuanist scholarship he was quite a good natured gentleman. If I could have a chance to meet him in person he could teach me about all the legitimate practical application of his ideas. That way, I could really see firsthand exactly how he applied all the theory behind his ideas to his life in practice. People are too often repelled by misunderstandings of his writings but if I could meet him, he could show me exactly how it all works.
A few years ago my cousins Gary and Mark, and I, were talking one day. I presumed to attempt to make a contribution to a certain topic of conversation, when Mark claimed that because I’m a theology and philosophy major-I’m not. I majored in literature- he wondered how could I possibly have had any idea of what I was talking about. A while after that I got into a debate with one of Mary Anne’s three kids, my nephew Michael. When I provided a rebuttal for something he said, he complained that it sounded as if it were something I’d mooched from a philosophy lecture and that for as far back as he could remember my approach to life has always boiled down, as far as he could recognize, to philosophy, theology and the Beatles.
Ever since my middle twenties I’ve always been quite smitten with theology and philosophy. Unlike other academic disciplines, as far as I’m concerned, those are the only two that an individual can, by necessity, count on having a need for over the course of his entire everyday life outside the classroom, one hundred per cent of the time. They’re all about human nature. The Beatles have been my very favorites literally throughout my entire lifetime. Their decade, the infamous legendary 1960’s, provide my sense of style and imagery. I’ve always always had quite an exceptionally intense sense of humor, and a hyperactive imagination, that can be referred to as a bit on the lopsided side. If my last name were ever to be used as an eponymous adjective, it would refer to a world where the things that must be taken very seriously would always undeniably be understood from an entirely conservative point of view. I very long ago recognized that liberalism is the custodian of all things evil and destructive. The left, in both secular and religious sources, dating back to the days of the Old Testament as well as Virgil and Homer, has always been associated with the forces of evil. Of course, in order to add an unavoidably necessary touch of levity to things, that would have to be combined with all my hippie flower power imagery and quite a nice wholesome dose of silliness. My lifelong infatuation with the past is most certainly not restricted to the 1960’s. Life in my world could send someone to places ranging from Regency England to ancient Macedonia.
To refer to something as Trasciatti.esque would be to evoke a world that somehow combines the intellectual and serious with the silly and lopsided, a world where everyone can be pretty much counted upon to behave reasonably well, but in which everything ends in suffixes ranging from -in to -agogo.
The von Hildebrands, along with Sartre and de Beauvoir, were having a leisurely walk, and a rousing debate. “God wants us to live by faith and reason”, argued the orthodox Catholic von Hildebrands. “There’s no god, just radical freedom and despair”, replied their existentialist friends. People from St. John of the Cross to Dostoyevsky have reminded us that what one is, he sees in others and in life in general. The two couples were so far apart, while standing side by side. They continuously befuddled each other, Dietrich and Alice, Jean Paul and Simone.
I’ve always been quite obsessively smitten with theology and philosophy. I don’t think the von Hildebrands were ever friends with Sartre and De Beauvoir but they were contemporaries. Alice von Hildebrand is the only one who’s still alive.
Although I’ve always so thoroughly enjoyed music, and can play the guitar, I’ve also, for as long as I can remember, been quite smitten with writing and public speaking, especially as an adult. One of the most significant things people find out about me after having gotten to know me for even only a very short time is my absolutely insatiable need to be as articulate as possible. Absolute clarity of speech and of thought, at all times, is of the utmost urgency. As a kid I was always quite a compulsive bookworm, constantly reading everything from dictionaries and encyclopedias to cereal boxes. The Beatles, and other singers and musicians of their era, have always been my favorites. The music of the 1960’s, to quite a great degree, was about story telling. In many was it was kind of like the Norton Anthology of Literature set to musical accompaniment. As my taste in music inspired me to learn to play the guitar, my taste in literature, combined with my musical interests, inspired me to write. Great literature uses imagery in order to tell a story and to make a point. Who can possibly avoid being intrigued by Robert Browning’s “My Last Duchess” or Emily Dickinson’s “Because I Could Not Stop For Death”? There’s another poem of Dickinson’s that opens with the line, “Tell all the truth but tell it slant”. That’s what great fiction is about. Most people generally like to receive a message or lesson in narrative rather than didactic form. Another means of expression I’ve always thoroughly enjoyed is a good debate. Although I was never on a debate team in school I always got quite enthused, especially as an adult student, with all kinds of debates about the culture war in this country. Over the course of my adult lifetime, theology and philosophy have always obsessed me but I also made sure I took a wide enough variety of other classes in the humanities and social sciences that would allow me to have a real understanding of all that’s going on in the world. I’ve always been quite a staunch conservative and my interest in expressing myself, from specifically that point of view, is quite a trademark of all my efforts at speaking and writing. Although things can get a bit polemical at times when I’m up against someone with liberal ideas, I think I do a relatively good job of avoiding trouble. For approximately the past twenty years I’ve been a lector at the churches where I’ve been a parishioner. I tend to feel very much more comfortable reading from a prepared text than with impromptu or extemporaneous speech. That’s why I’ve always especially enjoyed writing because I can have a lot more time to think something over by way of a rough draft before it’s officially ready. I’ve always enjoyed combining my interest in writing fiction with my interest in debating about things like theology and philosophy. Many of western culture’s greatest writers, from Shakespeare and Milton to Tolkien and Lewis have dealt with life’s biggest questions by means of prose and poetry. Although, unfortunately, I’ve never officially published anything I’ve written, It’s a good way to keep my mind active and continuously to raise people’s eyebrows.
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