Saturday, June 23, 2018

Brooklets Babbling

Rafaello Sanzio, "The Disputà over the Blessed Sacrament" (so called after the scholars around the center altar, debating the mystery of Transubstantiation), west wall of the Stanza della Signatura, Vatican, via Wikipedia.
Oh, Brooksie (The Fourth Great Awakening)!
There are certain melodies that waft through history.
It's Bad Poetry Day?

by Norris Clarion Sprigg, 1907.
I didn't bring my cymbols, though, or cymbals, or symbols. Just kidding, I've always got a symbol or two at hand. What else you got?
There are certain melodies that waft through history. One is the cultural contrast between Athens and Jerusalem. This contrast has many meanings, but the most germane one for our day is the contrast between the competitive virtues and the compassionate virtues.
Question to Radio Yerevan: Is the cultural contrast between Athens and Jerusalem a melody that wafts through history?

Answer: Hey, what isn't? The "cultural contrast between Athens and Jerusalem" seems to have originated in the writings of the 3rd-century Carthaginian Christian polemicist Tertullian, the one we remember for saying "Credo quia absurdum" (I believe it because it's absurd) and also asked, rhetorically, "What indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem? What concord is there between the Academy and the Church? what between heretics and Christians?" And answered, nothing: "… After Jesus we have no need of speculation, after the Gospel no need of research."

And Leo Strauss, in a 1950 lecture, glossed the contrast as follows:
each of the two constituents, Jerusalem as well as Athens, preach each one thing as the one thing needful. And the one thing needful preached or praised by Jerusalem is the opposite of the one thing needful preached or praised by Athens.... To use one word, Athens says insight, understanding, philosophy is the one thing needful, and Jerusalem says obedient love. You can reconcile the two things but only by subordinating one to the other. Athens can, as it were, use obedient love as a means and Jerusalem can use philosophy as a handmaiden. But neither obedient love nor philosophy are meant to be a handmaiden but are meant to be the queen.
Coming down on the side of Athens for himself and his co-conspirators, I guess (disciples would surely say I'm wrong) while Jerusalem is good enough for the masses. And if that isn't wafting through history, I don't know what is.

Of course for Brooks's purposes, the most germane interpretation of the contrast between Athens and Jerusalem is the one he just made up, unless you think philosophy is a "competitive virtue":
Athens — think of Achilles — stands for the competitive virtues: strength, toughness, prowess, righteous indignation, the capacity to smite your foes and win eternal fame. Jerusalem — think of Moses or Jesus — stands for the cooperative virtues: humility, love, faithfulness, grace, mercy, forgiveness, answering a harsh word with a gentle response.
When I think of Athens I'm more likely to think of Socrates insisting that everybody work together to discover the truth, the slave boy (Meno) and the hetaira (Menexenus) alongside the revered teacher, and peaceably accepting his condemnation to death. What the hell is Athenian about Achilles? (The hero in the Trojan War from Athens, a place of practically no significance in those days, was Menestheus, remembered for his skill in drawing up the battle order of chariots and warrior but mocked for being less than courageous.)

When did Moses (13th c. B.C.E., to the extent he's not pure mythology) get associated with Jerusalem (Hebrew capital of four centuries later), or display humility or grace or answer a harsh word with a gentle response? When I think of ancient Jerusalem I'll think of disobedient David, who conquered Jerusalem for Israel from the Jebusites, and furious Jeremiah, who prophesied the city's destruction and witnessed it. Are you kidding me? As for Jesus, the only time he ever went to Jerusalem after his bar mitzvah, they killed him within a week.
These two sets of virtues get communicated in different literary forms. The competitive virtues of Athens are usually narrated in myth while the compassionate virtues of Jerusalem often get narrated in parable.
Brooks's post-Semitism is now becoming so extreme that he's forgotten that the overwhelming mythology from the Creation through Esther even exists. Parables are in the Greek Testament, and are a Greek invention (παραβολή), created by trimming the talking animals and stuff from the fables traditionally attributed to the Greek slave Aesop (6th c. B.C.E.).

Long story short, this is another variation on his theme of résumé virtues (the ones you need to get somewhere) vs. eulogy virtues (the ones you'd like people to mention when you're dead), and has nothing even vaguely to do with the traditional theophilosophical theme from Tertullian to Strauss that he appeals to. Nothing at all!

And the subject of the day's complaints is going to be that the world has given itself over to competition myths or résumé virtues, in the form of Marvel Comics movies, video games, and the detestable modern institution of the World Cup. It's the Fourth Great Awakening! (Unexpectedly pagan where the first three were Evangelical, or he couldn't resist plugging in another totally inappropriate piece of deep content to display the breadth of his understanding, without thinking ahead to where it wouldn't have any meaning.) Driftglass suspects it's opium. I am strongly tempted to suspect that Jordan's plan for a software program to write Brooks columns may have been implemented sooner than expected.

And on the east wall of the Stanza della Signatura, confronting the representation of theology in the Disputà directly opposite, is the representation of philosophy in the School of Athens in a kind of inverted mirror (note how the figures divide the space in half, where in the first painting the space divides the figures), the harmony between the two frescoes exemplifying the perfect harmony between faith and reason, Jerusalem and Athens if you like, not that I do. Wickedpedia again.

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