Monday, September 23, 2019


Standish Backus, Garden at Hiroshima, Autumn, Watercolor on Paper (1946)


Thursday, September 5, 2019

John Milton’s Place in the History of the Dutch Republic

John Milton gets a mention in Russell Shorto’s book on the founding of New Amsterdam and New York City, The Island at the Center of the World. After the initial 1652 naval battle off Dover, in what would become the Anglo-Dutch War: 
[Adriaen] Pauw left for London to take part in emergency talks with Cromwell’s Council of State (where, incidentally, the man he would have dealt with as Cromwell’s translator and foreign speech writer [Secretary of Foreign Tongues/Latin secretary] was no less a figure than the poet John Milton). (248-249)
The talks are described by Leo Miller in John Milton’s Writings in the Anglo-Dutch Negotiations, 1651-1654—a book I have yet to read. What I will be looking for, specifically, are descriptions reflecting Milton’s “persona” as a bureaucrat and negotiator.  Milton’s prose writings are characteristically elegant, forceful, thorough, and “authoritative.” Did his manner in committee meetings reflect his prose style?  And as for Milton’s “deeper” mode: when in meetings or during negotiations, was he susceptible to dropping an ironic word? One might think so, but I doubt it.  I rather suspect his manner was pleasant, but closely measured.  On his mission from the Dutch Republic, Adriaen Pauw might have gained some insights into the character of the English adversary, as he balanced his impressions of Cromwell’s avid and aggressive nature against Milton’s fluency and charm. But this is speculation.

Meanwhile, here is Gerard ter Borch’s painting of Adriaen Pauw with his wife and granddaughter approaching Münster for the peace negotiations of 1648, which would lead to the end of the Thirty-Years War, with the Treaty of Münster and the Treaty of Westphalia. Happier times.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Monday, September 2, 2019

The Baths of Eudemonia

The Fountain of Youth (1546),  Lucas Cranach the Elder

Sunday, September 1, 2019

An alternative to Dürer

"Melancholy" (1532),  Lucas Cranach the Elder

We'll have to look into this.  In the meantime, a digression upon Dürer's Melancholia I can be found HERE.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Fritz von Opel and his rocket car, 1928 (with Haiku encomium)

bored people gather
nozzles clustered in the tail
it has come to this

Saturday, August 24, 2019

A Labyrinth in the City of Truth

From a series of engravings depicting imaginary utopias and dystopias in The City of Truth, or, Ethics (1609), Bartolomeo Del Bene’s poetic adaptation of Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics.  Please click HERE for more images from this volume.

Friday, August 23, 2019

“I’ll teach you differences.”

Wittgenstein suggested an epigraph for Philosophical Investigations could be a line from King Lear: “I’ll teach you differences.”

Elsewhere, he writes:
The older I grow the more I realize how terribly difficult it is for people to understand each other, and I think that what misleads one is the fact that they all look so much like each other. If some people looked like elephants and others like cats, or fish, one wouldn’t expect them to understand each other and things would look much more like what they really are. 


Thursday, August 22, 2019

More "Milton in Outer Space"

Peter Dizzoza introduces and preforms the piece:

Milton has been called the first poet of Space. Previous literary excursions used the underworld as the "remote sphere" that protagonists visited.  If I remember correctly, in one of his dialogues the satirist Lucian has his protagonist fly to the moon.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Reviewing the Quinque viae, concluding with a celebratory haiku

It has been a slow day here at the Highbrow Commonwealth, so we might as well review St. Thomas Aquinas’s five arguments for the existence of God:

Prima Via: The Argument from Change: Change is everywhere. Someone causes it---so there must be a God like Aristotle’s “Unmoved Mover.”

Secunda Via: The Argument form Causation: Who causes causes? Is there a first cause, itself uncaused? There is. God is the original Uncaused Cause.

Tertia Via: The Argument from Contingency: How do we account for contingency in nature? Only by a Necessary Being beyond contingency.

Quarta Via: The Argument from Degrees of Excellence: We notice degrees of excellence in nature. This implies the notion of perfection, which in turn implies what we might call a Perfect Being.

Quinta Via: The Argument form Harmony: Everywhere we look is “adaptation” or “accord.” Fish need to swim so they have fins and tails. Dogs need to chew bones so they have strong teeth. These are evidence of design—the manifestation (evidence/existence) of an Intelligence that organizes things.

Francisco de Zurbarán, The Apotheosis of Saint Thomas Aquinas (1631)


St. Thomas expounds
Church Doctors review with care
This is a nice day

(Attribution: my summary of the Quinque viae is from old notes, and I take they had been borrowed and paraphrased from various sources, long since forgotten.)

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Friday, August 9, 2019

Heroic advent of technocracy glimpsed from a rugged armchair, etc.

Raymond Massey in Things To Come... Korda and Menzies’ film of the H.G. Wells novel

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Philosophical Terminology, Conceptual Abstraction, and Confused Understanding

From "Dance Curves: On the Dances of Palucca,”
Wassily Kandinsky (1926)

Kandinsky's dynamic drawings are wonderfully pleasing. They underscore the beauty of the original subject as well as represent impressions that move us emotionally. 

They also elegantly illustrate the principle of conceptual abstraction.

Many philosophical terms and concepts are similarly abstractions. An erudite fellow in a lecture hall can equivocate endlessly about "absolutism" and "relativism", "freedom" and "determinism", but he is not talking about the real world. He is talking about abstractions--he is talking about mere "sketches" that represent only "parts" of the real world.

Compare two-dimensional cardboard stage scenery in a theater, and picture the erudite fellow acting as though these cut-outs aren't flat pieces of scenery, but are actual buildings, real trees, three-dimensional hills hundreds of feet tall, or what have you. The lecturer can deploy all sorts of learned "examples" and "statements" (that is,
effervescent terminology and exhilarating traces of cogitation concocted by other philosophers) to create the impression that these are important concepts, and he can speak and act as though his fluently equivocating upon these abstractions is discussing the real world, but the fact remains the lecturer is merely discussing abstractions--fanciful sketches that suggest or thinly evoke reality, but are actually illusions, wispy figments, evanescent nebulae, and fading imitations.

For further elaboration, see Bacon's remarks on the Idols of the Theatre in the
Novum Organum, or Melville's dilation upon the images of whales in chapters 55, 56 & 57 of Moby-Dick.