Sunday, June 16, 2013

Houellebecq on Art, Books

The following paragraph is taken from a review by Jeff VanderMeer in the "Review of Contemporary Fiction" of Michel Houellebecq's book on Lovecraft:

Houellebecq fares less well with statements like, "Those who love life do not read," reasoning that "the artistic universe is more or less entirely the preserve of those who are a little fed up with the world." Like most generalities about readers, books, or writers — and even if applied solely to Lovecraft — this statement seems more than a little suspect. While H. P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life provides a spirited introduction to an influential author, it falls short of being a definitive work because of such generalities, and in its perhaps overly kind portrait of Lovecraft the person.

This assessment of life, the arts,  and books reflects the stance of both Houellebecq and Lovecraft,  This view of art and life really recalls the philosophy of Schopenhauer more than anything else.  Of course, Schopenhauer understood and appreciated those who find solace in the arts rather than in the will-driven life of this world.     

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Luke 17:21 and Houston Stewart Chamberlain

Jozef Korzeniowski was born in Poland of Polish parents, but early in his life migrated to England where he rose to fame as the writer Joseph Conrad.  Conrad is a remarkable example of success in transnational authorship.  His achievement was all the more remarkable because of the lack of connection between the Slavic languages and English.

Less well known is the Englishman Houston Stewart Chamberlain who, although born in England, migrated to Germany, became a subject of the Kaiser, became the son-in-law and biographer of Richard Wagner, and achieved success in Germany with many books which he wrote in German.  The linguistic leap made by Chamberlain was less remarkable than that of Korzeniowski because English is one of the Germanic languages.  Not only has English many cognates in common with German, but both languages have borrowed thousands of words from Greek and Latin.

Probably the best-known work of Chamberlain was his Die Grundlagen des neunzehnten Jahrhunderts, translated into English as Foundations of the Nineteenth Century.   In explicating those foundations, Chamberlain was explaining how the modern world came into being.  It is still worthy of being read and pondered over.

Die Grundlagen has achieved much fame in the English-speaking world because of its most notorious reader.  However, this work was highly praised by Theodore Roosevelt and by George Bernard Shaw when it was published in English translation.  (As an aside, it will be noted that L. Sprague de Camp, in his biography of Lovecraft, concludes that Lovecraft was very much influenced in his thinking by Chamberlain's Foundations.) 

Some very enterprising individual has set up a Website dedicated to Chamberlain:  It is a worthy achievement for its bibliography.  The compiler of this Website has read in depth the works by and about his subject.  I am just beginning to become acquainted with this Website and noted upon my first encounter with it that Chamberlain chose to have engraved on his gravestone the  following words of Luke 17:21: „Das Reich Gottes ist inwendig in euch“

The compiler of the Website believes that Chamberlain chose these words from the New Testament as the epitome of his thought regarding religion.  He does not note which German translation Chamberlain used.  In Luther's translation the same verse is rendered as "das Reich Gottes ist mitten unter euch."

Luther chose a seemingly different preposition.  Luther seems to render it as the kingdom of God being among us, while the words on Chamberlain's gravestone suggest that it is within us. 

Verses 20 and 21 of the 17th chapter of Luke are rendered in the King James Version as follows:

"  And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation:  Neither shall they say Lo here! or lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you. "

C. I, Scofield, in a footnote to his edition of the Bible, observes that " It could not be said of a self-righteous, Christ-rejecting Pharisee, that the kingdom of God, as to its spiritual content, was within him. "   Scofield goes on to fit this into his dispensational reading of the Bible.  Scofield's footnote states that the Greek word entos means "in the midst."   The latter translation seems to fit Luther's "mitten unter euch."

The New International Version of the Bible renders Luke 17:20-21 as follows:

" Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, ' The Kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ' Here it is,' or ' There it is,' because the kingdom of God is within you. "

To this, the NIV translation adds the footnote "Or among" as an alternative to "within."   Cassell's German dictionary translates "inwendig" as "within" or "interior to." 

In the meanwhile, this new Website is worthy of a  visit:

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Revelation Before Good Friday

For at least a decade, I have begun each new year by beginning to read again the New Testament.  This year, as happenstance would have it, I finished my reading of the New Testament the day before Good Friday.  My reading ended, of course, with the book of Revelation.  What particularly sticks in my mind from reading that book is the point in the narrative where an angel proclaims that  " Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird " (chapter 18, verse 2).   Babylon falls in the course of only one hour.

Further down (verses 11-13), there is a partial description of the former city, now no longer in existence:        " And the merchants of the earth shall weep and mourn over her; for no man buyeth their merchandise any more:  The merchandise of gold, and silver, and precious stones, and of pearls, and fine linen, and purple, and silk, and scarlet, and all thyine wood, and all manner vessels of ivory, and all manner vessels of most precious wood, and of brass, and iron, and marble, And cinnamon, and odours,  and ointments, and frankincense, and wine, and oil, and fine flour, and wheat, and beasts, and sheep, and horses, and chariots, and slaves, and souls of men. "

Friday, March 22, 2013

Denunciation of Apostates: 2 Peter 2:17

2 Peter 2:17 presents an interesting image in a lengthy denunciation of the teachers of apostasy.  A few translations follow:

" These are wells without water, clouds that are carried with a tempest; to whom the mist of darkness is reserved for ever. "  (King James Version)

" These men are springs without water and mists driven by a storm.  Blackest darkness is reserved for them. " (New International Version)

" These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm; for them the deepest darkness has been reserved. "  (Revised Standard Version)

" Das sind Brunnen ohne Wasser und Wolken, vom Windwirbel umgetrieben.  Ihr Teil ist die dunkelste Finsternis. "  (Martin Luther's German translation)

The alliteration in the first sentence of Luther's translation is intriguing, but probably unintentional.  (The word for "clouds" in Old English is "wolken."   It survives only as the obsolete, poetic term "welkin," referring to the firmament in general.)

Saturday, March 16, 2013

1 Timothy 6: 6-10

Most probably, the Christian Right has an answer to the following, from 1 Timothy 6:6-10, but they are even more likely to be  not very forthcoming about it:

6.   But godliness with contentment is great gain.

7.   For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.

8.   And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.

9.   But they that will be rich fall into temptation and snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition.

10. For the love of money is the root of all evil; which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.

Luther's German translation of the same verses is as follows:

6.   Es ist aber ein grosser Gewinn, wer gottselig ist und lasset sich genuegen.

7.   Denn wir haben nichts in die Welt gebracht; darum werden wir auch nichts hinausbringen.

8.   Wenn wir aber Nahrung und Kleider haben, so lasset uns genuegen.

9.   Denn die da reich werden wollen, die fallen in Versuchung und Stricke und viel toerichte und schaedliche Lueste, welche die  Menschen versinken lassen in Verderben und Verdammnis.

10.  Denn Habsucht ist eine Wurzel alles Uebels; wie etliche geluestet hat und sind von Glauben abgeirrt und machen sich selbst viel Schmerzen.

Luther is cited here because his German translation of the Bible was consulted by those who prepared the King James Version.    Luther appears to say that a seeking to have things ("Habsucht") is a root ("eine Wurzel") of all evil.   Can it be rendered as "the one root" ?

The New International Version offers the following translation:  "For a love of money is a root of all kinds of evil."  That is a translation which will be more palatable to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Getting back to the Christian Right, they are most likely to seize upon this passage as justification for the poor to be content with their poverty.   Few of them, however, would be so bold as to say such today, most of them recognizing that open expression of such sentiments went out with the upper class of the age of Dickens.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Joseph Wood Krutch on Leo Strauss

The following is excerpted from page 173 of Joseph Wood Krutch's book Human Nature and the Human Condition  (1959):

            Professor Leo Strauss, a present-day defender of the now usually discredited concept of natural right, has recently pointed out that the collapse of the eighteenth-century argument based upon "general Consent" does not logically invalidate the concept itself:

     "'Consent of all mankind,'" he writes, " is by no means a necessary condition of the existence of natural right.  Some of the greatest natural right teachers have argued that, precisely if natural right is rational, its discovery presupposes the cultivation of reason, and therefore natural right will not be known universally:  one ought not even expect any real knowledge of natural right among savages. "

     This defense is applicable, not only to the concept of natural right, but equally to all the other phases of the more general concept of the natural as some sort of reality.  But it is not likely to be very effective with most contemporary relativists because it assumes that reason, as distinct from rationalization, is possible and because it rules out as irrelevant the opinions and practices of the savage, the uncultivated, and the stupid upon which the relativists lean so heavily in drawing their conclusions concerning what is "natural" and "normal"!

Leo Strauss came back into wide attention when the neoconservatives became the ideologues of the administration of President George W. Bush.  Then Strauss was widely attacked as a defender of elitism; i.e., the theory that all societies by default, if not by purpose, are ruled by an elite. Of course, Strauss did not simply describe what he believed to be a reality, but was its defender.  It is interesting that Krutch, usually considered to be a representative of liberalism of the ordinary garden variety drew upon the work of Leo Strauss, if only in this passing comment. 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Some Thoughts on Jonah

[ Originally written and posted on December 25, 2011 ]

It is appropriate to look at Jonah on this day. Halley's Bible Handbook maintains the historicity of Jonah, citing Christ's reference to it in Matthew 12: 39-41. Central to the book is the theme of entombment and resurrection. Looking at Jonah as a parable, however, it offers much for analysis. The whale has always stolen the show, of course. Halley calls it a "sea monster," not truly a whale. As a beast more serpent-like than mammalian, it is central to the axis of falling into darkness and rising again to the light.

There is another axis within the book of Jonah, that of east and west. Jonah flees the Lord's command to go east to Nineveh, He boards a ship at Joppa and seeks to go as far west as possible in the then-known world, to Tarshish. According to Wigoder's dictionary of the Bible, Josephus interpreted Tarshish as being Tarsus in Celicia. Smith's dictionary of the Bible maintains that Tarshish is the Aramaic name for Tartessus, in Spain. If one dares to contradict Josephus, it is intriguing to think of Jonah as seeking to flee to Spain. Paul announced his intention of going to Spain.

The meaning of the whale is too big to take on as a topic of speculation here. Better it is to linger over that mysterious plant (4:6-10) that gives shelter to Jonah. The New Revised Standard Version calls it simply "a bush," but offers a footnote: "Heb. qiqayon, possibly the castor bean plant." Smith translates that Hebrew term as Ricinus communis, the castor bean plant. He notes that this grows to be a tall tree in India, but is only a bush in England, at most 3 or 4 feet in height. Luther's Bible translates the plant as "Rizinus," an obvious Germanization of the Latin name for the plant. In the New International Version, it is only "a vine." The King James Version preserves something of grandeur. Therein, it is "a gourd."