Flowers of the Mind 3. Asvina (week 1) 2021

Wallace Stevens – “The imperfect is our paradise” from “Poems of our Climate”, Parts of a World (1942)

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During the week a fragment of reported speech was relayed to me from that the COVID zero fanatic, Brendan Crabb – not a doctor, but a molecular scientist – who alas advises my remote outer province of the empire on health policy. In a discussion about how to bring the endless war against the virus to an end, Professor Crabb was reported to say that if the pandemic were compared to World War II, then we are in 1943, not 1945.

Ah, if only I could intervene and question Professor Crabb on the analogies he draws from outside his field.

“Whose conduct of the war in 1943 were you thinking?”, I might say.

“Surely, Germany. You have launched Operation Barbarossa and been defeated at the Battle of Stalingrad. You are over-extended. Fanaticism and medical malpractice is rife. Defeat is certain, but dissent is ruthlessly extinguished.”

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Is what I am writing a novel? The Novel would be the convenient term to give; but these fragments of imagination, essay, history, memoir, introspection, story, invented speech rather form Prose Art. The novel is an art form living off the interest of its former greatness.

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From a podcast with Rod Dreher, General Eclectic (September 22), I learnt the story of Saint Galgano, Galgano Guidotti (1148 – 3 December 1181). who plunged a sword in the stone when he renounced his disordered, worldly, violent life. The sword in the stone is venerated at Montesiepi Chapel near Siena. Modern scientific tests suggest the sword is authentic, but more miraculously surely is that this story of the saint gives rise to a whole lineage of stories about Excalibur.

Such thoughts could lead to magic, but Dreher, a former Catholic and convert to the Eastern Orthodox faith, leads me, a very secular man, to contemplate becomes C.S. Lewis “The Inner Ring“, my ostracism and the inspiration of Kierkegaard’s Knight of Faith.

“When around one everything has become silent, solemn as a clear, starlit night, when the soul comes to be alone in the whole world, then before one there appears, not an extraordinary human being, but the eternal power itself, then the heavens open, and the I chooses itself or, more correctly, receives itself. Then the personality receives the accolade of knighthood that ennobles it for an eternity…. The knight of faith is the only happy man, the heir to the finite while the knight of resignation is a stranger and an alien.”

Kierkegaard, Either/Or, Fear and Trembling

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Louise Glück won the Nobel Prize for literature in 2020, a welcome return to sense after the Nobel’s committee’s recent wandering into Bob Dylan and sexual harassment controversies. Though I have read Glück for decades, I bought her Collected Poems during the year and read two of her poems during the week – “Otis” and “Ancient Text”.

In “Otis” she echoes the forlorn wandering and wasting time by the sea of Otis Redding’s song, “Sittin’ by the Dock of the Bay”.

This is the end, isn't it?
And you are here with me again, listening with me: the sea
no longer torments me; the self
I wished to be is the self I am.

In “Ancient Text”, Glück personifies an old text, just as she had the flowers of her garden in The Wild Iris (1992), the flowers of her mind, which accepts its fate to be continuously misread.

….If I was, in a sense,
an obsessive staggering through time, in another sense

I was a winged obsessive, my moonlit
feathers were paper. I lived hardly at all among men and women;

I spoke only to angels. How fortunate my days,
how charged and meaningful the nights’ continuous silence and opacity.

Louise Glück, “Ancient Text” from Seven Ages (2001)

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From The American Mind podcast I learn that the American elites are denouncing themselves again as the causes of how democracies die. From this podcast I learnt that the authors of the sloppy and silly How democracies die (2017) have crept out from their rock to advocate their ideas that conflate democracy with their political opinions.

“To save our democracy, we must democratize it. A political system that repeatedly allows a minority party to control the most powerful offices in the country cannot remain legitimate for long. Following the example of other democracies, we must expand access to the ballot, reform our electoral system to ensure that majorities win elections, and weaken or eliminate antiquated institutions such as the filibuster so that majorities can actually govern.”

Levitsky and Ziblatt “The Biggest Threat to Democracy Is the GOP Stealing the Next Election” The Atlantic 29 August 2021

Alas, it is too late. I had already been inoculated against these bad ideas when I read Levitsky and Ziblatt’s 2017 book. To reform our governing institutions we need to recognise that we now live in a post-democratic society, and do the hard reflection on rebuilding institutions and rediscovering virtue today.

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So many scenes of protest, police violence and totalitarian drives in Melbourne this last week. And from Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago I read: “without a response from public opinion, a mutiny even in a huge camp has no scope for development”

Image: Photo of Louise Glück

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