Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Slovenly Round-up

It's a hard time for me right now in all sorts of ways. Prayers and general good thoughts would be appreciated.


It's a day for ancient documents! First up is this novel comparison of the differences between the American Constitution and the would-be Constitution of the Confederate States of America. The author's conclusion: the CSA offered no significant improvement in States' Rights, absolutely did care about keeping slavery, but nonetheless had several insightful ideas that could bear consideration today. This is a pleasant, engaging, and intriguing read, and is not the sort of thing one typically finds floating around. The author's political cartoons are also quite often delightful.


Second on the ancient document express is the glorious work that is The Heliand. Far fewer people are aware of this work these days than perhaps ought to be, but this is hardly surprising given its general unusualness. The Old Saxon poem was written in the ninth century as a novel means to convey the Gospel to the hale and hearty types of Europe in a manner they could understand and appreciate. It reconstitutes the account in sagatic terms, with Christ as a sort of high chief, and the apostles his lesser thanes and vassals. The Literary Encyclopedia has this to say, on that score:
What is most striking about the poem, however, is its recasting of the gospel story in the terms of traditional heroic poetry, with its social world and its values of warriorship. The approach of the poet 'accommodates' the gospel narrative to the understanding and experience of the vernacular audience. Jesus and his disciples are reconceived as a lord and his retainers, the aristocratic ring-giver and battle-leader and his loyal warriors; the relationship, in particular, of Jesus and Peter is portrayed in heroic terms, leading to shame on the apostle's part when he denies his lord; Jesus goes heroically to his death, entering Jerusalem not on an ass but striding forward on foot.
Unfortunately, no full English translation exists on the Internet (as far as my searching can see), though there are certainly some in print, and available. However, a fully searchable version of it in the original tongue can be found here. See also the Wikipedia entry, which is all kinds of useful. I will be purchasing the most popular of English translations in the near future, and we'll see what we can do about getting some noteworthy passages up here for you.


There is much about noted cogitator and stevedore Eric Hoffer to be debated, but in his opposition to dehumanisation and self-imposed drudgery there is much also for the Chestertonian to admire. Some choice aphorisms follow:

"The compulsion to take ourselves seriously is in inverse proportion to our creative capacity. When the creative flow dries up, all we have left is our importance."

"Freedom means freedom from forces and circumstances which would turn man into a thing, which would impose on man the passivity and predictability of matter. By this test, absolute power is the manifestation most inimical to human uniqueness. Absolute power wants to turn people into malleable clay."

"No matter how noble the objectives of a government, if it blurs decency and kindness, cheapens human life, and breeds ill will and suspicion- it is an evil government."

"Both the revolutionary and the creative individual are perpetual juveniles. The revolutionary does not grow up because he cannot grow, while the creative individual cannot grow up because he keeps growing."

And, perhaps my favourite:

"People who bite the hand that feeds them usually lick the boot that kicks them."

1 comment:

Kevin O'Brien said...

God bless Eric Hoffer! Not many people seem to know about him. This is what I wrote at another Catholic site when someone asked about who Hoffer was:

Eric Hoffer was a brilliant guy and a very good writer. He was the
"longshoreman's philosopher". Entirely self-educated, he worked as a longshoreman in San Francisco, after having spent years as a migrant worker in
California. He was an original thinker and wrote very many pithy observations on modern life, thoughts he formulated while working the demanding manual labor
of a longshoreman.

He had a strange life, which included years of blindness as a child, blindness that was either miraculously cured or simply a hysterical condition that left as
abruptly as it came. He was never married, was a loner who had a library card in every town he passed through, and had periods early in his life of intense
despair. He died in 1982.

It's been years since I've read him, but I recall him as being more an observer of society than anything else. His thinking ran along the sociological vein,
and was not particularly religious. He considered hope, for example, a kind of illusion. But a glance through some of his books reveals the following gems:

"The compulsion to take ourselves seriously is in inverse proportion to our creative capacity. When the creative flow dries up, all we have left is our importance."

"Retribution often means that we eventually do to ourselves what we have done to others."

"Our greatest weariness comes from work not done."

"Man is godlike when he makes nature pliable and responsive, but becomes an anti-God when he turns human beings into a plastic mass that he can knead at will. For God turned clay into man, while the anti-God turns man into malleable

"Nonconformists travel as a rule in bunches. You rarely find a nonconforminst who goes it alone. And woe to him inside a nonconformist clique who does not
conform with nonconformity."

"There is a spoiled-brat quality to the self-consciously alienated. Life must have a meaning, history must have a goal, and everything must be in apple-pie order if they are to cease being alienated. Actually, there is no alienation
that a little power will not cure."

"We all have private ails. The troublemakers are they who need public cures for their private ails."

"We know now that affluence is a threat to social stability; that the adult's failure of nerve is more critical than the young's impulse toward anarchy; that
righting wrongs is a perilous undertaking which needs a tightening of social discipline; that a sense of usefulness is more vital to the quality of life than
abundance or even freedom."