Steps to Recovery: Defending Life

kaczor

Some issues we face in this era of modernity / postmodernity be illuminated by wisdom that predates our era: the sanctity of life is one such issue. Here we (very) briefly consider the critique of abortion arguments, the definition of “life,” when it begins, its characteristics etc. as presented by Loyola Marymount University Philosophy Professor Christopher Kaczor in The Ethics of Abortion (2014).

 

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Steps to Recovery: A Heraclitean Fire, an Immortal Diamond – Gerard Manley Hopkins

In a flash, at a trumpet crash,

I am all at once what Christ is, | since he was what I am, and

This Jack, joke, poor potsherd, | patch, matchwood, immortal diamond,

Is immortal diamond.

from That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire and of the Comfort of the Resurrection

Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1888 (https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44397/that-nature-is-a-heraclitean-fire-and-of-the-comfort-of-the-resurrection)

Written in 1888 after an absence from poetry, and cheerful poetry at that, for a few years, this poem of Victorian poet Gerard Manley Hopkins offers a literary apologetic, or imaginative apologetic, exploration of the meaning of humanity both before and after its redemption in Christ.

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Steps to Recovery: Be Still, and know that … (Neil Postman)

In Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman makes the case for the form of communication deeply governing the content of communication.  “A Major new medium changes the structure of discourse,” Postman notes, but with a pessimistic tone, continuing “the epistemology created by television (is) not only inferior to a  print-based epistemology but is dangerous and absurdist.[1] Sophistication of language, and hence of conceptual reasoning, have evidenced a progressive decline from the era of oral cultures and particularly colonial America’s print culture, to culture as it saw increasing uses of the telegraph, photography and television. The attendant loss of depth in reasoning and public discourse has as one of its casualties the understanding and appreciation of history.

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TS Eliot’s The Wasteland: Modernity on Trial

 

‘The Great War’ (World War One) had exhausted both the actual population of Europe as well as cultural and spiritual vitality – and Eliot’s Waste Land captured this listlessness of life and loss of meaning.  The first of five sections of the poem, ‘The Burial of the Dead,’ thus opens with the imagery of a grave site, though ironically yet suggesting signs of life, however dreary:

            April is the cruelest month, breeding

            Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

            Memory and desire, stirring

            Dull rooms with spring rain.[1]

Eliot brings to light the tired spirit following such massive amounts of death which, ironically enough, were often made possible by such human inventions as machine guns and gas warfare. In his own way, Eliot follows Romantic poets such as Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge from a full century before who sought to rehabilitate the imagination in the face of a dehumanizing urbanization and industrialization.[2]  But Eliot’s poetry spoke to the monumental collapse of confidence in the progress of civilization brought about by WWI.  The steady march of progress and attendant optimism of the Victorian  nineteenth century found poetic expression in the 1902 Coronation Ode for King Edward VII of England:

Land of Hope and Glory, Mother of the Free,
            How shall we extol thee, who are born of thee?
            Wider still and wider shall thy bounds be set;
            God, who made thee mighty, make thee mightier yet[3]

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Modernity & Postmodernity: Introduction

london fair 1851b

Land of Hope and Glory, Mother of the Free,
How shall we extol thee, who are born of thee?
Wider still and wider shall thy bounds be set;
God, who made thee mighty, make thee mightier yet

the 1902 Victorian hymn, Land of Hope and Glory, rings in the new century, gushing with an optimism of a full century’s worth of peace and prosperity behind it. But quickly this sense was lost, as the “Great War” (World War 1) soon enveloped powerful and dominant Europe in a massive crisis of confidence.  Poets bemoaned this unbrave, new world with lines such as

Things fall apart; the center cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world

in William Butler Yeats’s 1919 The Second Coming, or from TS Eliot’s 1922 The Wasteland: “I will show you fear in a handful of dust,” or from his 1925 The Hollow Men “this is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper;” or Eliot’s use of Dante’s end of the world imagery in both in describing lines of lost souls wandering about London Bridge and the like.

Thus entered the era of modernity – philosophical, literary and otherwise – into the early 20th century …

Picture Above: The transept of the Crystal Palace, designed by Sir Joseph Paxton, at the Great Exhibition of 1851, Hyde Park, London.Hulton Archive/Getty Images   (www.britannica.com/topic/worlds-fair)

ww1

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Wit’s Offspring the Reasonless: For lack of a more Scientific Title (aka “Orchestra” of Sir John Davies & The Elizabethans)

 

Laughing, crying, tumbling, mumbling,
Gotta do more, gotta be more.
Chaos screaming, chaos dreaming,
Gotta be more, gotta do more.

od sax

 

So waxes poetic Charles Dalton, or Nuwanda, in the forbidden poetic caves of The Dead Poet Society. Poetry as a clue to meaning in life? Science has settled everything, or so we have been led to believe, but the poets make their claims:

Or, to answer Tina Turner’s question What’s love got to do with it? the deeper yearnings of the human soul still cry out.

The Medievals understood all of this, anticipating these modern questions, and did so with a poetic flair.

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Models of The Medievals and Dante

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy[1]

Hamlet chides Horatio in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

Considering Hamlet’s claim in the modern world leads us to wonder just what we may have lost (or gained) with our own view of the world. In The Discarded Image, C.S. Lewis, noted Christian apologist and Oxford Professor of English Literature, and later Cambridge Professor of Medieval and Renaissance Literature, describes how the Medieval era had its own unique model of thought.

Dante Alighieri (Dante; 1265-1321, Italian), author of the Divine Comedy, a trilogy of journeys through Hell (Inferno), Purgatory (Purgatorio) and Paradise (Paradiso), built his morality play largely on the Medieval model that Lewis describes, using the concepts and imagery so well-known to the Medievals of his time.

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