Gifts for a Father

Fives gift ideas that any father would smile upon receiving:

1.  A nice fountain pen and a bottle of ink.


Three places to begin your search: Levenger, Amazon.com, Dromgoole’s.

2.  A reliable fly-fishing pole.


Take a gander at these sites to find such a rod: Orvis, L.L. Bean, Amazon.com.

3. A rugged manly journal for writing in the evening or to jot notes throughout the day.


Dig one up at Rogue Journals, Colsen Keane, Robert Mason.

4. The latest poetry collection by Wendell Berry.

5.  A good pipe and tobacco.


Procure such gifts at Pipes and Cigars, Smoking Pipes, the Briar Shoppe.

To Think and Read: Philosophy and the Encounter With Literature

Rembrandt Philosopher in Meditation

Philosopher in Meditation by Rembrandt

There is much that could be said here and when I started to put my thoughts together I quickly found that this could grow to such a length that it would strain my abilities and your patience.  My only claim will be philosophy is the work of reason and literature is the work of the imagination.  Yet, these are not as far apart as one might think.  They, in many ways, must proceed together or at the very least complete each other’s thoughts, as old married couples are wont to do. There is no irony in the fact that philosophers have used images to put flesh and bone to their abstract meditations.  Socrates expressed greed for images, Plato had his Cave, Descartes his Evil Demon, and Nietzsche his prophesying Madman.  Likewise, the imagination is strengthened by reason.  For even for the starving artist faithful to Keeping Austin Weird could derive some benefit from Goya’s observation “Imagination abandoned by reason produces impossible monsters; united with her, she is the mother of the arts and source of their wonders.”  So much for Dan Brown.  So much for Descartes.

Furthermore, in discussing philosophy and literature, it would be of no little interest to understand the reality that brings these two to birth- language. For it is the mark of language that it is both intelligible, syntactical, and inherently image laden. Language is that strange symbolic phenomena expressed in varying vocalizations and written signs that tether us to the world like an anchor.  The strangeness of language lies, particularly, it its paradoxical quality; that peculiar quality of being powerful to enough to open a window on the very beginnings of the cosmos yet seemingly impoverished and inadequate to fully express one’s love or sorrow.

I suppose the best way or maybe the only way that I can address this topic is to speak of my own encounter with these.  I should say, that unless you have had your own experience with these, what will be said here today will be of little use to you.  Furthermore, I should say at the outset that my comments will not proceed in the manner of argumentation but of reflection.  You see I love philosophy and literature and whatever is loved should be given a dignified treatment.  That which is loved must not be discussed speech of experts, much less philosophy or literature professors. Furthermore, literature leads to philosophizing but philosophy may be expressed imaginatively or poetically. Either way, though they are, properly, different pursuits each leads, albeit in different ways, toward the contemplation of existence sparked by wonder. You may have your doubts and fair enough.  But these are my reflections and you will have to trust me or at least bear with me.

As a child, I and a friend of mine, while jumping on a trampoline, stumbled upon, quite naturally for children, on what Heidegger called the basic metaphysical question, “why is there something rather than nothing?”  As the sun set and the day began to cool into dusk we continued our jumping and giggling with astonishment that things actually exist and wondering where they come from.  But indulging this new found discovery was not something typically discussed in school and given my lack of discipline for anything that I thought more pedestrian I sort of floated through the whole experience.  As a fairly lazy student my antennae would never register any interest unless the class discussion wandered into one of those tangential discussions that had larger implications beyond the fairly prosaic facts and figures.  At that time I did not have a formal name for this interest.  I was unable to articulate what it was about these questions that interested me. Nevertheless, at some point a possibility occurred to me.  Maybe around twelve, I was sitting in a mimosa tree with my friend Chris Britt and the discussion turned to what we wanted to do when we grew up.  I don’t remember his response but mine is clear as a day.   “I want to be a philosopher,” I said matter of factually.  “What do they do?” Chris asked.  “I’m not sure. I think they talk about life and stuff.  You know, like Plato.”  Well, he didn’t know and we looked at each other for a moment and moved on.  To this day, I have no idea of where that thought came from.  It would another twenty years before I began a formal education in philosophy.

As far as reading goes, for many years, Where the Side Walk Ends by Shel Silverstein was ever present friend and never far out of reach.  However, I had an aversion to anything that looked like a novel, as having to sit still that long to read seemed insufferably boring.  However, in middle school it took something of an even greater boredom, in the form of Mrs. Gifford’s study hall, which drove me to look for some respite.  And so it was that I came across the fantasy series, the Prydain Chronicles, by Lloyd Alexander.  Those books opened up a world that I scarcely knew existed, the world of imaginative fiction.  I was hooked and I have been more or less hooked ever since.

My junior year of high school was the first time that I became consciously aware that philosophy, that thing that talked about life and interested me so, could be found in that other new found love, the reading of imaginative fiction.  I had one particular teacher (isn’t it always one particular teacher?)  Mrs. Crane, short and petite, having the most charming of Southern drawls, who introduced us to short stories that actually touched upon life in the way that interested me.  Through their imaginative power, these stories had me consider deeper philosophical questions.  From “Harrison Bergeron”, by Kurt Vonnegut, came the question of what is the ultimate value of equality. From Ray Bradbury’s “The Sound of Thunder”, the ethics of technology and what are the consequences of the smallest actions upon history.  From Flannery O’Connor’s, “Good Country” the nature of evil and the religious dimension in life.  In conjunction to these great works of fiction she would encourage us to think deep thoughts.  In particular, there was one thing she’d come back to and remind us of again and again.  She would look at us with large clear eyes and say, “In all that happens to you try to search for the deeper meaning.”  Such advice, I am sure, seemed to her at times, as being seed cast upon stony earth, but those stories and her encouragement awakened something within me.

“To search for the deeper meaning.”  This, in time, became and is my aim in life.  And in small but no less important addition to religious faith, philosophy and literature have helped me to understand my own life.    Actually, I think Mrs. Crane’s advice is sage wisdom for anyone, even you sitting here enduring the sound of my voice.  Walker Percy, in the novel, “The Moviegoer” has one of his characters ruminate on what he calls the search.  “What is the search?  It is really quite simple…the search is what anyone would attempt if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life.”  Philosophy and literature allow a person to take a hand to the veil of everydayness and pull it back to see what depths of meaning the world actually reveals. Because I believe unless you do this whatever you do manage to do will ultimately come up to nothing.  That sounds pretty harsh but life is pretty harsh.  If you don’t believe me wait.  Let life, at times, come in as an unwelcomed guest take from you without asking or without apology, maybe even knock you around a bit.  And maybe you might get around to asking yourself some philosophical questions, “What in the hell is going on?”  “What is the point of all this.”  “Is this all there is?”  Maybe you might have all this going on, even if unconsciously, and come across a passage in a novel or poem, whereby you might see an image of what you are going through now.  Then you might have hit upon the cathartic element in imaginative fiction that lets you see, vicariously, your life and its possibilities.  Maybe through that work you will have your predicament named for you whereby you could exclaim “That is it!” and yours be the shock of a man having found what he scarcely thought was lost.

The late novelist, Eudora Wetly said something that I think is important to our present discussion.  She said:

“The events in our lives happen in a sequence in time but their significance to ourselves find their own order…The time we know subjectively is often a chronology that stories and novels follow: it is the continuous thread of revelation.”

girl in book store

Girl in Bookshop

The events in our lives, when considered in the light of philosophy and literature prepare one for this revelation, the revelation of that deeper meaning, for which we should all be searching.   For me one particular revelation is the meaning of the human face.  The philosopher, Emmanuel Levinas, wrote much about the meaning of the human face and the implications the face of the other has on ethics.  I have often reflected on his thoughts on this subject and he argues quite powerfully for his position that the face reveals an infinity.  That has always struck me as powerful but it was not until I had a particular experience about a year ago that crystallized what he was saying.  The experience was quite profound for me and revealed something for me that I wanted to commit to writing.  Now let me say that I’m an amateur writer, which is to say I am a terrible writer with illusions of grandeur, who is more than willing to visit his inane ramblings on anyone who is too polite to decline or too unfortunate to escape.  So here you are:

“With an arm propped on the driver’s side door, my head rests wearily in an opened palm as I make my way home. I’m increasingly impatient to arrive as the long day seems to lengthen from the haltingly slow traffic moving like an irregular pulse along an asphalt artery. Occasionally, I cast a bored glance toward my fellow commuters, noting expressions, either exasperated or vacant. Some are lost in a digital oblivion that knows no interruption, save by the honking of a horn or the alarming reality of the bumper ahead. For a time, I too, am lost in miasma of thought, a sort of low and foggy cognizance that is there but never forming toward something definite. And then, from the corner of my eye, I happen to catch the gaze of someone passing by. She is a small child of no more than six years, with eyes large and dark, deeply and richly dark, like freshly tilled earth into which the wide and variegated world might be sown. As she passes by, I manage to offer her a slight smile. She returns with a smile of her own before moving ahead. It lasts but a moment though just long enough for the everydayness to be lifted. The manner of her smile, delicate and unburdened as a dew laden web at dawn, discloses our shared re-cognition of that Goodness, whereby the wandering of the old burnt and wearied world might at last find a home. She is soon out of sight. But I am left with a definite thought: what is it in a smile or even more, in the face of an-other person, which may uncover an entire horizon? Drawn deeply into that unveiled mystery, I make my way home.”

To try to give you the experience of which Mrs. Crane spoke is impossible.  You have to see it for yourself.  In cannot be had vicariously.  For you, it would have all the impossibility of vicariously experiencing the taste of some particular dish from the mouth of another man.

If this world has not seized you by the collar and given you a good shake before all its strangeness and wonder, you have not lived. You may become old and gray but your years will stretch and fade behind you as so many thoughtless miles on a forgotten highway.

With that, I would encourage you, if you have not done so, to think and read or at the very least, to think of reading.

A Pope’s Poem

 

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I have seen over the years a title of St. John Paul II’s poetry but never really looked for a copy.  Over Spring Break, I came across a copy of his poetry and few other books at a Half-Price Books store in Houston.  I cannot say enough about visiting and spending time in a brick and mortar book store.  I do 99% of my searches and research about authors and books beginning at Amazon.com, and end up doing about 90% of my book purchases there as well, but it is that 10% that I relish in spending time in a bookstore, particularly stores that focus in used books.  I always have my handy list available my God given noodle, but just in case I am stumped, I pull out my more immediate list I keep on Evernote or if I have gone through it and still have time to search further, I pull up my lists on Amazon.com.

JPII

Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI), in 2003 had a formal presentation at the Vatican of then Pope John Paul II’s poetry in which relating how inspiration of verse came to the poet pope from his preaching the Lenten retreat for Pope Paul VI and the Curia in 1976:

In this connection several sentences came to mind that were written by Karol Wojtyla in 1976 when he preached the retreat for Paul VI and the Curia.

“He related the case of a physicist with whom he had carried on a long discussion, and at the end of it, had said to him: ‘from the point of view of my science and its method I’m an atheist …’ However, in a letter, the same man wrote: ‘Every time I find myself before the majesty of nature, of the mountains, I feel that HE exists'”.

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Perusing the poetry collection over Spring Break as well as preparing for Holy Week, the poem “The Place Within” captivated my attention as to the Holy Father’s interior sight and his ability to draw a reader into the poet’s sight as well as be able to reflect on where that reader’s interior sight is pointing without the guide of these poetic words.

The Place Within
St. John Paul II
My place is in You, your place is in me.  Yet it is the place of all
men.  And I am not diminished by them in this place.  I am more
alone—more than if there were no one else—I am alone with
myself.  At the same time I am multiplied by them in the Cross
which stood on this place.  This multiplying with now diminishment
remains a mystery: the Cross goes against the current.  In it
numbers retreat before Man.
     In you—how did the Cross come to be?
     Now let us walk down the narrow steps as if down a tunnel
through a wall.  Those who once walked down the slope stopped
at the place where now there is a slab.  They anointed your body
and then laid it in a tomb.  Through your body you had a place
on earth, the outward place of the body you exchanged for a
place within, saying: “Take, all of you, and eat of this.”
     The tradition of that place within relates to all the outward
places on Earth to which I came on pilgrimage.  You chose this
place centuries ago—the place in which You gave yourself and accept me.

 

 

 

 

Caesar Augustus: Roman Ubermensch


The earthly city is ruled by its own lust for ruling.  So noted St. Augustine in De Civitate Dei, written after the sacking of Rome in 410 A.D. by the Visigoths, the first by a foreign invader since the Gauls in 390 B.C.  If there was any earthly city more apt for ruling unruly, lawless barbarian hordes it was imperial Rome.  From the late first century B.C. to the second century A.D., law and order, culture, commerce, travel, and knowledge all experienced great increase under the rule of the Caesars.  The so-called Pax Romana spread across three continents: from Spain and France to Turkey, down to Judea and Egypt, and back over the whole of North Africa, returning again to Europe across the Pillars of Hercules.  The Latin word for the world is orbis terrarum, the circle of lands — a fitting image.  At no time in the history of man had so many peoples and lands experienced such peace.  But how was that peace founded and at what price was it purchased?  The answer lies at a singular moment in the life of a Roman boy who accepted the greatest bequest ever offered to one so young and inexperienced.  Caius Octavius, from now on known as Julius Caesar, the son of Caesar, at the mere age of nineteen, with scant military and administrative experience becomes a serious contestant in the struggle for supreme power over not just Rome, but the entire Western world.  History now knows him as Imperator Caesar Augustus, Son of God.  And none but Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar had shared in such intense lust for ruling, the libido dominandi, like Octavius.


This reflection, however, is not meant to retell the tale of Caius Octavius in great detail.  The inspiration for this reflection comes form Adrian Goldsworthy’s work on Augustus, the title of which being the same as the name of the man, a sweeping narrative history which should be read widely, assuming of course that ignorance of history really dooms one to repeat it.  What struck me the most about Augustus’ tale was not his genius for branding himself a traditional Roman, or the vast difference in his temper as a young triumvir in which he is known for his brutality in the pursuit and punishment of his enemies, versus his principate which is characterized by clemency toward foes who admit defeat, but the Roman people’s willingness to believe Octavius’ proganda and embrace him as their Imperator.  Goldsworthy rightly points out numerous times that the people longed for an end to roughly fifty years of internecine, brutal civil war.  For peace to prevail, one man had to impose himself upon the broken Republican regime and compel the senators to agree that the war was over.  And the people loved him for it.  It was hard for the senators to disagree with a man who by 27 B.C. controlled nearly twenty-six legions, roughly 100,000 men.

Rome embraced soft-despotism and no better a soft-despot was there than Caesar Augustus.  However, Augustus would pacify mankind not by virtue or persuasion to the truth, but by the sword.  The libido dominandi must be sated.  Such it seems is the burden of empire.  Adding legitimacy to the new regime, Augustus’ Rome would be patinated with tales of Rome’s founding, piety to the gods and state, and monuments in honor of her Princeps. Augustus had transcended his forebears: his reign was not by chance, but fate.  Any hope for a return to the age of men like Cincinnatus and Cato the Censor, where men ruled themselves in virtue and observance of the ancient Roman moral code, the mos maiorum, the customs of the ancestors, an age still alive in the Republic’s darkest days in the great souls of Cato the Younger and Marcus Tullius Cicero, was completely lost when the Roman people hailed one man, assented to granting him singular authority to order the state, and chose security at the expense of freedom.  Though the regime took it’s final form in 27 B.C. when the senate granted Octavius the name Augustus, a name with deep religious meaning, in truth, the Roman people’s inordinate love of security at the expense of freedom was made much earlier.  But that is a topic for a later reflection.

A final note: I cannot complete this reflection without juxtaposing George Washington to Caesar Augustus.  Washington had his moment to choose absolute power, and we enjoy the result.  Let’s pray and work that we may keep our Republic.

Brief Thoughts on “The Reagan I Knew”

ReaganIKnew

Some brief thoughts on the latest book I finished.  Since January, I have introduced myself to the fiction writings of William F. Buckley.  I have been reading and/or listening to his novels and non-fiction.  Today, I finished listening to Buckley’s The Reagan I Knew. Buckley’s prose continues to impress me, even after his death.

I recommend this book for two reasons which there could easily be more: 1. Listening to Buckley’s narrative and personal letters is so unique and truly pushes one (or at least me) to improve one’s writing skill; 2. We learn and even participate in the friendship between William F. Buckley and the Reagan Family.

One theme and one story to tantalize you: the ongoing theme throughout the letters both of Buckley and the Reagan’s is a reference to the city and movie Casablanca.  There are some of the letters that in Buckley’s writing style, I was almost scandalized in how he would make mention of running off to Casablanca with Mrs. Reagan. The letters both to and from President Reagan opens the reader/listener to him as a person in terms of politics but more so on his actual thought on policy and crises he lived or guided our country through.
William F. Buckley, Jr., Conservative Party candidate running for the office of Mayor of New York City, is shown outside the Overseas Press Club on Oct. 20, 1965.  (AP Photo)

William F. Buckley, Jr.

The one story that I will mention, which I will not be able to give it its due is Buckley’s presentation of President Reagan succumbing to Alzheimer’s.  As I was listening to letters post his presidency into the 1990’s I was waiting for the shoe to drop about President Reagan leaving public life due to his illness.  If I remember correctly, Buckley writes a letter almost in a tone of Don Quixote taking on the windmills, inviting President Reagan to attend an event sponsored by Rush Limbaugh and National Review.  The event would honor and celebrate the leadership of President Reagan.  Buckley goes into detail of the event and draws you into its planning.  In response to his letter, Nancy writes that President Reagan is no longer well enough to attend such a function.  Buckley then makes note about 9 months later, President Reagan released a letter to the American people concerning his withdrawal from public life.  Buckley takes the reader one more step into the personal situation contemplating the question, when did the President begin to have such moments? The reader almost does not want to know such intimate knowledge. Buckley gives both a personal reflection and then an anecdote from someone else who knew Reagan as long as Buckley himself concerning Reagan having a clouded moment.  I will not spoil it for you, but go and read or listen to the book, you will not be disappointed in writing style and its subject.

A Bibliophile Laments the Closing of Stores, the Loss of Community

I woke up this past Sunday morning to learn of another bookstore closing…some may call it a loss due to the global economy or even the free market at work. Hearing about the closing of La Hune in Paris (a friend tagged me in her Facebook post, so that I might read and comment on Adam Gopnik’s New Yorker article) brought to mind a sadness and concern that I had just felt recently no more than 1/2 mile from our house on Memorial Day weekend Long Lost Friends bookstore closed down after 20 years of serving the community.

In this two sentences there are a few key words that I would like to expound on why local bookstores are important: “Global Economy”, “Paris”, “Community”.

“Global Economy”
Some are inclined to think the free market is doing its share by choosing online retailers over brick and mortar operations. Customers see large brick and mortar chain bookstores struggling, Borders closed operations a few years ago and Barnes and Noble seems to have discount books, their editions, and what is the latest top sellers, beyond that you cannot find a book that does not fit in those categories; if you are looking for a hardback it is going to be in the new release section or something like the professional books, such as business and self-help. These large stores are no longer the visual future that we saw in the movie “You Got Mail.” Yet is Amazon.com really making a profit, and are books, printed or digital, carrying the load? Convenience within our “busy” lives may be the hidden driving force, along with a growth of individualism.
Online retailers are not overwhelming brick and mortar in books sales but it is the overhead that assists the online market. Long Lost Friends bookstore closed down the street from me and is going online to continue to sell their inventory until it is gone. What we currently find in a resurgence of coffee shops, thanks to Starbucks and the sitcom, “Friends”, is where community or socialization is happening over a cup of coffee with a few people reading. (I am currently in a Starbucks writing). Where do you go to learn about a book or books you should read, especially over these summer months…the latest blog? It is us choosing to be alone, at a coffee shop or in our home on our computers in our virtual worlds, that is more significant than the online bookstores. Why does every Barnes & Noble have a cafe, so you can come get a “cup of joe” and by the way look for a book…it is not the Global Economy that is the main drive in the slow death of independent bookstores but rather our inward narcissistic turning that moves us away from going to and hanging out in our bookstores, barbershops and other such places.

“Paris”
I am no French bookstore enthusiast but on my first visit to Paris and on my subsequent visits, I made sure to visit Shakespeare & Co. bookstore. And yes, I am such a bibliophile that when I watch movies that take place in Paris, I am looking through the background to see not only where I have been, but to see Shakespeare & Co. I did not look for nor see the bookstore in a movie before my first visit, but I read articles, essays, memoirs, and even novels whose author at made reference to Shakespeare & Co. It was my interest in James Joyce and then the Bloomsbury writers that peaked my interest of the place. I probably have seen a few movies only to see the bookstore and what books they had on the shelves, such as Before Sunset. Over the years I have visited cities and even towns to see what kind of independent bookstores they had, which opened the city or town to me. One person who is always open to talking is a bookstore clerk, especially in local stores. To gain a sense of what the community is like and even to learn more about what books to read, because the clerk is always a reader and will recommend a book or two based in your genre or author of preference. I did not visit La Hune or even try to visit a French library upon my visits there, but I think I do know a little more about Paris beyond the literature that I had previously read, including my Frommer’s guide from experience of being there and perusing of a local bookstore.img_1158

“Community”
It is a community that keeps local businesses thriving. When I first entered Long Lost Friends, I saw a few pictures on the wall and certificates of schools and teachers thanking the store for their support of a particular school or class. What happens when the local diner, bookstore, or barbershop does not support a little league team. Actually, does little league still exist. With traveling hand picked teams chosen from a city of over 4 million, no wonder, we need to take 10 year olds around the state or across state lines to compete against equal competition. Even the the idea of a traveling team removes one from community and begins our focus on ourselves, it is exactly what we are teaching our children to think of themselves and make sure they are the with their level not with neighbors or friends from down the street. Local businesses are not the mainstay of 20th century America, and I am not advocating a return to your roots and hometown or suburb in which you were raised. It is our choice not to have a local bookstore and other such businesses. One of the tag lines to tell you teenager today as they walk out of the door with friends, is “make good choices”. So how about we use that same phrase in ourselves, make good choices, those for your family and community? When was the last time you had a bookstore find or order a book for you? It has been too long for me…now the closest local bookstore, not Half-Price, but Twice Told Tales about 5 miles from my house. Is it a treasure trove? No, but it is my local bookstore that I will visit and have my children purchase their own books.

Civilization’s End
I sometimes tell parents or undergraduate students that our current generation is reading more worldwide than in any other time in history. It is a true statement. Rather the reading is not exclusive to newspapers, magazines, and BOOKS, but all the reading we currently do, web surfing: blogs, ads, Facebook, Twitter, SnapChat, WhatApp! and texting. I will not lay out an argument but to say that newspapers and magazines are questionable reading today, you can imagine what my thoughts are concerning everything that is current in our reading. Facts: We are reading. We are engaging each other in social media, yet we are struggling to root ourselves, physically and psychologically. Post WWII, our grandparents could move and make themselves anywhere in the U.S., thus Americans were no longer rooted to their place of birth. The late 20th century we have had trouble with rooting ourselves with just one person, and today we cannot root ourselves interiorly and know who and what we are.

Think small, think local, build a relationship with someone whom you want to spend the rest of your life, have children, build friendships, ones that last with those who are struggling as you are…this is what Edmund Burke called a platoon. It is in our platoons that Civilization will not end. Good-bye, La Hune and Long Lost Friends…

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