what a wretch I have become! I dig up old papers and can't believe that I used to have active research interests. i surf the web for names of fellow classmates and find they they're teaching Greek in California or participating in conference panels in Kenya or busily writing dissertations on relatively important historical topics. ah! would that i could master the worm at my breast. why was I made to be curious about despairing things?


Back to School

Started classes again today. Family law is a little crazy. I wonder about my instructor. He has a nasal tone, no wedding band, and wears a bow tie. The Jurisprudence seminar looks very good though. I described myself as a sort of Christian Platonist and a borderline monarchist who has a low view of democracy. Now all I have to do is find a suitable paper topic. (It's actually an important paper because I haven't done very much real academic writing since undergrad. I need a fresh writing sample.)


2002 NY40

Found the asteroid at about 03:30 UT or Zulu time night. Faint (10th magnitude) and drifting west few degrees southwest of Vega at a rate of about an eighth of a degree per minute. The rock is only about 800 m or so across, and passes within about 500,000 km of the earth about the distance of the moon's orbit. It was really cool though to see it move slowly and steadily against the background stars, just drifting along. Daniel, Andrew, Mom, and Dad were all able to spot it before the clouds rolled in. Hurrah!


Feminism and the New Asceticism

Celibacy is an oft-discredited and overlooked model. Many great men were celibate—at least, e.g., the greater part of those dusty old premodern dead white guys. I am not suggesting that I personally have the gift or even the doom, but the idea does have a undeniable rational appeal. But beyond any idiosyncratic sentiments, I wonder if the whole culture would be the better from self-examination here.

The instant crisis of American culture in particular and of Western socialist-democratic culture in general, does not, I suggest, consist simply in the decline of the family, but is, certainly, bound up in its erosion. Part and parcel of that erosion are two related doctrines: romanticism and self-realization. We are perhaps accustomed to identify the latter with some porn-pushing ACLU type or, what is worse, with some dying gay coughing up blood. What we perhaps overlook is the true identity of the former.

Contemporary Christian conservatives tend to counter the worship of sex with what is really only another idol: the bourgeois home. In reality, may I suggest that the final product of this belief in “family values” is the broken home, just as self-slaughter is sequel to amor sui. Is this so strange? Men divorce, desert, and betray women for all sorts of common and relatively bestial reasons. This has pretty much always been the case. (The “poor,” in this sense, are always with us.) But the great tide towards divorce is something very different. Modern divorce is simply the endgame of an autonomous, historically feminist dream of romance which posits marriage as a mystical union in which two people become one not on the basis of the oaths they swear or the children born of their genetic union, but on the basis of a shared emotional, quasi-spiritual experience. In her own way, the divorcee is doing nothing more than asserting her ultimate faith in “family values.” She cannot continue in a marriage without “love,” with a spouse whom she perceives as, at bottom, essentially a failure because unequal to her idol of an ideal.

It is not my place to fault my mother’s gender as such. This is the Adamic sin. But it is crucially important for Christian evangelicals to understand that they can only lose at kulturkampf, so long as romantic love is enthroned as the sine qua non of marriage. It is not secret that this ideal of romance is, characteristically, a feminine weakness. Men, taken categorically, do not buy feel-good greeting cards. Nor are they the primary consumers of those tangible tokens in which the marketplace tries to sell the intangible. Men, rather, are typically and ordinarily content with vice of simple lust.

If in classical Rome, Christianity faced a culture glutted on lust, today, in our secular democracies, Christianity faces a market gorged on love, “love” exhausted into impotence by the kitschy sentimentality of the valentine. If the Playboy ethos represents essentially a reversion to the spirit of old paganism, with its depersonalization of the feminine, perhaps we may identify the idolization of romance, with its hopeless burden on the male, as the final realization of apostate, secular consumer culture.

What am I trying to say? Well, I am rather wondering aloud as to whether single Christians of both sexes might be called to forswear the cult of romance in a similar way to that in which they seek to guard their chastity. Furthermore, I am suggesting that the presence of this grand idol should inspire a fresh wave of exemplary asceticism, in which some men and women individually not only reject the romantic illusion as normative but also reject as false that bourgeois ideal which identifies marriage and parenthood as universal norms irrespective of religious or secular vocation.


Between the Darkness and the Light:
II. Philosophy, Poetry, and the Void

The shades of Plato and Boethius rose up from their tomes and offered to guide me to some obscure chapel among the spires of the Kashmir. I went through the narthex, right through the flaming walls of the world, found Philosophia standing at the altar, and married her on the spot. She was an older woman, old like Galadriel in Tolkien, stern, wise, terrible, beautiful. We honeymooned among the clouds of thought. In every sense, I thought I knew her. Between multiple intellectual epiphanies, she showed me the kingdoms of the earth and explained their histories. As I was now a man, she gave me her ring, and sent me down to hunt legends in the world below, a world of which she could never really be a part.

Philosophia had bid me look for her old ally and erstwhile rival, Poetry, who could only live upon the green earth, under broad elms amidst echoing woods. I passed through vales sounding with epic thunder. I picnicked besides the golden streams of lyric. At last, in a secluded meadow, I found her. She was a young girl, dressed in warm pastels, probably still in high school. (I didn’t ask.) I lay in her myrtle-strewn bower and held her a little with chalk-dirty hands. She began to chant to me of Love and his mother, and the generation of things, and lo! the scales fell from my eyes and I saw before me not … Poetry, but Philosophia herself, fey in her beauty and majesty, terrible as the storm and the wind and the flares of our star.

The meadow-bower faded around me and I found myself on the roof of the world, bloody fingers jammed amidst the ice, searching for granite. The height made me dizzy and sky with mountain swam before my eyes. I felt as though I were looking not up but down, down at a black sky filled with an infinity of bright, hard diamonds endlessly removed. It seemed as though I would fall through that void and be dissolved between those particles of light. And then I felt her hands around my biceps, holding me, her nipples hard against my shoulder blades.

“Look, behold, and tremble,” she was saying. “This is the universe as it really is. As a child, you squinted from your backyard through the veil of your little world up out at this immense whole of being. You laughed at those who found themselves alone out in its depths, between the ice and the fire. And now, at last, you are with them.

“But you were always falling in the void. Only now, now that you are mine, do you know it. You see the majesty and terror of the face of the universe, and your fear it. Here, on the edge of the apeiron, you are not so sure now that there really is a God behind those stars. Perhaps he is not quite the person, the father, as of whom you had thought your own. Are you so sure that that man, so great in your little world, the prophet of Nazereth, was really one with the infinity of number which upholds these atoms in their being?

“That shudder on your spine is my gift to you. You are free to try and stop it with food and drink, and Viennese music and cheap poetry. But you will never forget what you have seen here.”

I went black and found myself stumbling in una selva oscura. Almost involuntarily, I began to rub a cord which I found at my breast and numbly to intone, “Ave Maria, plena gratia . . .
Between the Darkness and the Light:
I. The Ghetto

I grew up in the Jesus movement, and finished growing up in the Homeschool movement. (I could have said Reconstructionist movement, but Rushdoony's shadow is certainly larger than those who have named themselves by his label.) I was, accordingly, exposed, on the one hand, to a sort of heady countercultural dissidence which burst the drywall of American society to cast about for roots and find, at length, Constantinople and Geneva, but also, on the other, to an anticommunist, survivalist siege mentality which rejected so large a part of American history as to emerge, notwithstanding its superficial patriotism, profoundly anti-American. My experience of Christianity was, from the first, supposed to be both radically biblical and intellectually curious.

My radically biblical pedagogy precluded me from much exposure to classical literature as a youth, but I was able to steal some long draughts of Shakespeare and Milton, which I drank much too quickly. Tolkien and Lewis were my early Vergils—guides in a realm of what I now consider poetry. They introduced me to another world, of mystery, of unreconstructed nature. They taught me that the most beautiful thing in the world is allusion to a larger story, expressed concisely in alliteration of simple, common words.

My teachers were conservative in an essentially utilitarian way. They loved Mill, Rothbard, and even old Augustine as clubs and hammers with which to beat that hideous strength, the young Olympian, the messianic State. But their classical liberal or even Whig sociologies were unequally yoked to a vision of the world out of tune with all later modernity, a vision whose finest hour was a Puritan theocracy never so fully realized as in spectacles of reprint publishers. These teachers made me to call into question everything which had happened in America and Europe since at least 1800, yet they forbade me to read the old poets and the old philosophers, as so many pagan homosexuals drunk on dreams of human autonomy. I would complete my training. I would not rush to face Vader.

To medieval history I then turned my eager eyes, eyes then eager to know the causes of things. Gazing into the dark ages, I looked into the fat book of its morning star, and devoured Augustine. In his pages, I read about a world which was lost—the Roman empire—and about another world which had come and gone, a world pregnant to him and expiated to me—the Old Christian West. For all their strict Calvinism, Augustine was the real progenitor of my teachers, the original Christian social critic; I felt as though I had meet Rushdoony’s distant ancestor—and so I put down Gary North.

I remember wanting to get inside the African’s mind, to understand what it meant to be a Roman and a Christian in love and in hate with that city founded upon a fratricide. For this reason, I began Latin. When Vergil came to me, he was a revelation, and I felt as though, “somehow . . . I’ve always known.” I quickly learnt Greek and found myself smack in Homer and Plato. Hellenism was not something alien to me, but was really stock and stone of that realm I knew and loved. I felt almost like Luke Skywalker at the end of Empire, when he discovers that Vader is his father. Only, for me, it seemed more like some comic eucastastrophe.