21 June 2010

Summertime Peregrinations

Well, dear readers, at last I have returned from my hectic June travels. Unfortunately, I have somewhat less Orthodox activity to report on than I had hoped I would. In Memphis, my friend Christopher and I were the guests of Macarius (‘Mickey’) Hodges, a gifted translator of ancient Greek who did some work for the OSB (the end result of which did not please him). We were delighted to have breakfast and coffee with Mr Hodges and my good friend, Owen White, the Ochlophobist, before heading on our way. Although we had planned to stop next in Wayne, WV, where we were to stay with Logismoi reader Fr Deacon Jeremiah Davis, at the last minute we realised that we would be arriving too late and leaving too early to see the monastery (or Fr Jeremiah for that matter), and that we would be better off simply to continue through the night on to our next destination—Long Island. There, we were hampered by time, distance, and available transportation, and so were not able to visit the other Holy Cross Monastery, there, under Fr Maximos.

As it turned out, our first Orthodox encounter occurred last Sunday, at St Irene Chrysovalantou Monastery in Astoria, where the abbot, Archbishop Paisios, was celebrating his nameday. We arrived quite late, owing to inexperience with the NY public transportation systems, but were able to hear two homilies (in Greek, of course), participate in the final portion of liturgy, receive antidoron, and partake of a wonderful fish feast with the Greek community of Astoria. As a final NY treat, I was able to spend most of Monday with my good friend, Herman Middleton, author of Precious Vessels of the Holy Spirit: Lives & Counsels of Contemporary Elders of Greece. Then, Monday evening, Christopher, Herman, and I met up for drinks and dinner with the Baldwin-esque Christopher Orr of Orrologion fame, and St Vladimir’s seminarian and Texan, David Bryan Wooten of Oh Taste & See.

Essentially the rest of my week was spent at the Association of Christian & Classical Schools conference, ‘Repairing the Ruins’, in North Carolina. I attended talks by such Protestant luminaries as Os Guinness and Douglas Wilson, had a wonderful time criticising them with the other faculty of my school, drank and sang Irish songs with the staff of Veritas Press, and returned heavy laden with complimentary books, most of them courtesy of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute and their poor, harassed employee, Michelle Huntley (I miss you already, Michelle). I shall wrap up this post with a brief overview of my winnings, concluding with two found in NY.

1) John Milton Gregory, The Seven Laws of Teaching, unabridged (Veritas, 2004). John Milton Gregory (1822-1898) was a Baptist clergyman and president of Kalamazoo College and the University of Illinois. Veritas advertises their edition as ‘unabridged’ owing to the wide familiarity throughout the twentieth century with an edition from which nearly all religious references had been expunged.

Although I’m sure I’d heard of this book before, I didn’t really start paying attention until I sat in on a workshop entitled ‘The Art of Rhetoric-Level Testing’ by Stephen Rippon of Tall Oaks Classical School in Delaware. Rippon used the book heavily in his talk and listed it in a handy bibliography he passed out. Later in the conference, Joan Middleton of Cary Christian School included the following quote in one of her handouts: ‘The very language with which knowledge must be expressed takes all its meanings from old knowledge.’ Finally, Denise Hollidge, in ‘Chanting & Singing: A Call to Teach the Grammar of Learning’, cited the book repeatedly without even naming the author, as though we should all know what she was talking about. Gregory’s was the only book I actually purchased at the conference. I certainly plan to read it before August.

2) John H. Haaren & A.B. Poland, Famous Men of the Middle Ages (Louisville, KY: Memoria, 2006). Part of a series of collections of brief illustrated accounts of historic persons, this was one of many books given out at a talk emphasising the integration of subjects called ‘Planning for a Creative Classroom’, by Veritas co-owner Laurie Detweiler.

3) Paul Heyne, A Student’s Guide to Economics, ed. Joseph A. Weglarz (Wilmington, DE: ISI, 2007). This one is part of a series from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute designed as ‘reader-friendly introductions to the most important fields of knowledge in the liberal arts’. Visitors to the ISI table were initially allowed to choose one free of charge, but by the end of the conference Ms Huntley was eager to lighten her load as much as possible and I snapped up this along with anything else I saw.

4) Harvey C. Mansfield, A Student’s Guide to Political Philosophy (Wilmington, DE: ISI, 2008). Another score from the closing moments of the ISI table.

5) James V. Schall, SJ, A Student’s Guide to Liberal Learning (Wilmington, DE: ISI, 2000). This one was actually my first choice of the Student’s Guides, and I read it straight through Friday night. Writing for the student who feels his deepest questions—those which concern the meaning of life itself—are not being answered in his university education, Schall provides a delightful, highly informal sympathetic guide. Here is a welcome passage on the ‘Great Books’ approach to things:

[In his famous essay, ‘What Is Liberal Education?’, Leo] Strauss also mentioned, however—which is [Frederick D.] Wilhelmsen’s point [in an essay entitled ‘Great Books: Enemies of Wisdom’]—that careful study of the great thinkers reveals eventually that they contradict each other. And contradictories cannot both be right; but they can stimulate our curiosity. The study of ‘great books’ can lead students to a kind of implicit relativism or to a choice of a great mind that leads them far afield. Or they will think that if the great thinkers do not agree, ‘whom am I to dispute them?’ ‘Why bother?’ The whole point of this present essay, while in no way doubting Strauss’s point about the great minds contradicting each other, is to suggest that this controversy among the great minds can lead to a false sort of humility, something that misunderstands what the mind is about. In the modern world, Chesterton said, humility is misplaced; it is thought to be located in the intellect where it does not belong, whereas it is a virtue of the will, an awareness of our own tendencies to pride. We should not doubt our minds but our motives. The condition of not knowing should not lead us to a further skepticism but to a more intense search for truth. We should see in what sense a great mind might reveal something of the truth even in its error. [1]

One of the most charming things about this book is the little lists Schall scatters throughout, such as ‘Three of the More Than One-hundred P.G. Wodehouse Novels’, ‘Five Books on Thomas Aquinas’, ‘Five Classic Texts on Philosophy, Good Men, & Death’, and ‘Four Books Once Found in Used Book Stores’, culminating in ‘Schall’s Unlikely List of Books to Keep Sane By’. As a sample, here is Schall’s ‘Six Classic Texts Never to Be Left Unread’:

1. Plato, Gorgias
2. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics
3. Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
4. Augustine, Confessions
5. Pascal, Pensées
6. Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France [2]

6) James V. Schall, SJ, The Life of the Mind: On the Joys & Travails of Thinking (Wilmington, DE: ISI, 2008). Having so thoroughly enjoyed Schall’s contribution to the Student’s Guides series, when Ms Huntley was packing up Saturday and I saw this one was still left, I knew I had to grab it. In the introduction, Schall writes:

Does this book have a ‘practical’ purpose? Will it help you get into graduate school, or get a better job, or run for office? Not really. It is largely addressed to what is impractical about ut, to what has to do with knowing, not doing, even granting their intimate relationship. The ‘doing’ that I envision is not merely the desire to find a book and to read it. It is to feel our soul moved by what is not ourselves, by the truth, by what is. [3]

7) Hugh Mercer Curtler, Recalling Education (Wilmington, DE: ISI, 2001). Another book unjustly left sitting on the ISI table at the end of the conference, I had to rescue it. From the dust-jacket synopsis:

In this searching and accessible critique, Hugh Mercer Curtler [Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Honors Program at Southwest State University in Marshall, MN] argues that the purpose of education—enabling studnets to achieve intellectual autonomy, and thus true freedom—has been forgotten. Furthermore, he argues that any renewal of American civil society depends on the renewal of American education, for only when our students learn to become truly autonomous can they act as free and responsible citizens.

8) William F. Lynch, SJ, Christ & Apollo: The Dimensions of Literary Imagination (Wilmington, DE: ISI, 2004). I first discovered this book while doing research for my Master’s thesis. Unfortunately, a perusal suggested it was a bit too tangential to my main argument and if there was anything directly relevant, it would take too long to find. I certainly intended to come back to it, an intention firmly bolstered by Fr Jonathan Tobias’s apparently permanent inclusion of the book in the ‘Open Books’ sidebar of his blog. Here is the final paragraph of Glenn Arbery’s introduction:

But Lynch’s great point, the one the powerfully abides in the wake of this book, the one that gives the book a continuing energy, si that for the ‘Christic imagination’ limitation is charged with God’s own nature—in other words, that even common circumstances and appearances, such as those routinely recounted in the Gospels, bear enough meaning to sustain two thousand years of continuous meditation and commentary. In developing his view of the Christian imagination, he does not feel the need to apologize for God’s failure to write as a philosopher or mathematician. Any situation—Flannery O’Connor’s ordinary famrs and doctor’s offices and family trips—can yield enormous meaning for the imagination sufficiently open to it. What the Lynch of Christ & Apollo clearly loves in literature is this access it affords to reality. He makes clearer than almost anyone else what an ontological poetics might truly be. His book liberates the imagination to face what is really in front of it—the image, with its reservoirs of profound hope, and the action that in it analogical unfolding leads one deeper and deeper into the mystery of the common thing—including, it turns out, the real life one already leads. [4]

9) Avrahm Yarmolinsky, Dostoevsky: His Life & Art, 2nd ed. (NY: Grove, 1960). Although I possess a lovely slipcased and illustrated edition of Yarmolinsky’s translation of The Brothers Karamazov, and wrote a fairly thoroughly researched senior paper on Dostoevsky as an undergrad, I didn’t recall ever having heard of this book when I saw it last week on a table full of books on a Manhattan sidewalk. The bookseller wanted five dollars for it, but as I only had four, he agreed. Here is the final paragraph:

Whatever course history may take, a large part of Dostoevsky’s work, so warm with compassion, so crowded with people inwardly seen, powerfully projected, so big with questionings, will trouble the blood, kindle the imagination, move the mind toward a concern with ultimate things. His major novels should continue to provide the reader with the sense of having glimpsed the human drama at its most intense, of having shared in the enterprise to which Dostoevsky at an early age promised to devote his life: the unravelling of the mystery of man. [5]

10) Elizabeth Schmidt, ed., Poems of New York (NY: Knopf, 2002). A contribution to the Everman’s Library Pocket Poets series, this was my little souvenir from the New York Public Library, where I also—to my great delight—acquired a library card. Though I could wish that Schmidt might have found a few selections earlier than Walt Whitman, I thought this very nearly a perfect souvenir. Here, in conclusion, is early twentieth-century Jamaican poet Claude McKay’s ‘The City’s Love’:

For one brief moment rare like wine,
The gracious city swept across the line;
Oblivious of the color of my skin,
Forgetting that I was an alien guest,
She bent to me, my hostile heart to win,
Caught me in passion to her pillowy breast.
The great, proud city, seized with a strange love,
Bowed down for one flame hour my pride to prove. [6]

[1] James V. Schall, SJ, A Student’s Guide to Liberal Learning (Wilmington, DE: ISI, 2000), p. 24. Incidentally, this is a point I found echoed in one of Os Guiness’s talks, as well as N.D. Wilson’s workshop, ‘Story Wars’, on the importance of imparting discernment when we teach stories.

[2] Ibid., p. 15.

[3] James V. Schall, SJ, The Life of the Mind: On the Joys & Travails of Thinking (Wilmington, DE: ISI, 2008), p. xvi.

[4] Glenn C. Arbery, ‘Introduction’, Christ & Apollo: The Dimensions of Literary Imagination, by William F. Lynch, SJ (Wilmington, DE: ISI, 2004), pp. xxxvii-xxxviii.

[5] Avrahm Yarmolinsky, Dostoevsky: His Life & Art, 2nd ed. (NY: Grove, 1960), p. 411.

[6] Claude McKay, ‘The City’s Love’, Poems of New York, ed. Elizabeth Schmidt (NY: Knopf, 2002), p. 45.


John Martin said...

If you liked Schall's guide, then you'll love his Another Sort of Learning, which also has book lists scattered throughout.

Anonymous said...

If you don't mind, could you share some thoughts about the Astoria monastery? I realize you weren't there long, but did it seem like a place worth traveling to, to visit or stay at? Do they allow visitors to stay over? Thanks.

Aaron Taylor said...

John> Yes, I intend to acquire that one eventually.

Anonymous> Sorry I haven't responded, and unfortunately I'll have to wait and try to remember to get back with you tomorrow. I will say for now that I really don't know much since I only stopped by to catch the service and get in on the lunch.

Aaron Taylor said...

I completely forgot about saying more about the Astoria monastery! Basically, I would say that it's not particularly extraordinary unless you have a great devotion to St Irene Chrysovalantou (of whom they have a wonderworking icon). I enjoyed the sermons (all in Greek), the bishop, what I heard of the chanting, and the food and hospitality, and if you know Greek it's a nice place to catch an Old Calendar service (for now--I hear they may change soon) if you're in Astoria, there doesn't seem to be a thriving monastic life there, and apart from the calendar the liturgical life did not seem to be all that traditional. I'd rather visit one of Elder Ephraim's monasteries.